ReFo: Bengals @ Dolphins, Week 9
Ben Stockwell highlights individual performances from the Dolphins' walk-off win over Cincinnati on Thursday Night.
ReFo: Bengals @ Dolphins, Week 9
A lot can change in football in a few days with this exciting, if not particularly polished, Thursday night football game proved perfectly. Just five days prior, the Cincinnati Bengals were celebrating one of the most emphatic victories of the season at home to a New York Jets team sporting one of the better defenses in the league. At the same time, up in Massachusetts, the Dolphins were busy blowing a 17-3 lead to the New England Patriots to fall to 3-4 after having started the season 3-0. From the highest of highs and the lowest of lows these two teams rebounded to give us a game to remember.
The Dolphins found themselves at a crossroads in not only the game but also the season when, again having blown a 17-3 lead, Mike Nugent fired the Bengals in front with less than 90 seconds remaining. Instead of crumbling, the Dolphins’ offense responded with a game-tying drive and then in overtime the special teams and defense combined to turn field position and set up the victory with, of all things, a “walk off” safety by Cameron Wake. Quite why the Bengals called for a drop-back to their own goal line from the 8-yard line will be down to a post mortem in Cincinnati and, frankly, the Dolphins won’t care. What mattered was execution in the crucial moments, something the Dolphins had lacked in recent weeks and this victory gets them off of their slide with a chance to rebuild some of their early-season momentum with some winnable games coming up in November.
The Bengals are still clear atop the AFC North, but this defeat will again raise questions about their credentials as a top-tier team — not only in terms of faltering to defeat off the back of such a high-quality performance, but also on account of the loss of their most important defensive player, Geno Atkins, as well the offense’s lack of a spark once Giovani Bernard left the game with a rib injury. Bernard’s injury is reportedly not serious, but all indications are that Atkins is done for the season with a torn ACL which threatens to destabilize their defensive line from the inside out. Off a short week you can’t read too much into this, but having lost Atkins, the Bengals will be in need of a rebound performance to restate their control of the AFC North when they travel to Baltimore next Sunday.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Bernard Steals the Show Before an Early Curtain
Last night was Giovani Bernard’s advert to be offensive rookie of the year and he just staked his claim for Play of the Year for good measure. As an undersized running back there were fears that Bernard would struggle to get on the field this much, but having surprised in pass protection (only two hurries surrendered this year), the Bengals have found it increasingly difficult to hold his playmaking ability off the field. On only nine carries last night Bernard forced five missed tackles and racked up two touchdowns of very different types.
His first, in direct response to Brent Grimes’ pick-six, came inside the 5 (an area many felt he wouldn’t get carries), showing patience to allow a pull and lead block to set up before bursting through the hole and driving through the shoulder of Philip Wheeler as he slid off of Clint Boling’s pull block late on. The second was so memorable I don’t really need to describe it to those of you who have seen it. For those who haven’t, treat yourselves and go watch it now. All he did was break out of a two-man tackle behind the line of scrimmage and reverse field (using a block from Boling to spring him to the corner) before following a convey up the left sideline and breaking infield past two defenders for a score that at this stage has to be one of the leading contenders for the season’s top play.
If he hadn’t been shelved for the night with a rib injury, it’s hard to think that he wouldn’t have had at least one more big play in him to potentially swing the game Cincinnati’s way.
Will the Real Andy Dalton Please Stand Up?
Off of possibly the best two-game stretch of his career, Andy Dalton reverted to type last night (-1.4). This game featured the sort of glaring errors that have been absent in recent weeks but returned with a vengeance, particularly on a few out-breaking routes. Dalton capped off a disappointing first half (where one of his better throws was dropped by A.J. Green) with his first interception failing to get an out route to Green far enough towards the sideline. Dimitri Patterson broke across Green’s inside shoulder and took the interception, which Miami converted into a field goal just prior to the half.
Dalton rebounded well after halftime — initially, anyway — helping lead the Bengals on a long drive that put them in position to reduce the lead if not tie the game. Instead, Dalton again was too far inside on an out route which Brent Grimes jumped, in a similar fashion to Patterson before the half, taking this return back for six points in the other direction. Just the sort of error leading to a point swing that at this stage Dalton needs to be cutting out of his game if he and the Bengals are to take the strides forward. If Dalton is to help the Bengals step through the door that most of the AFC is leaving wide open for them he needs to learn from these mistakes, not keep repeating them.
No Help From the Tight Ends
The Bengals got aggressive in the draft taking Tyler Eifert to give them two “weapons” at tight end as is one of the fashionable approaches in the NFL right now. However, in the offense the Bengals run, their tight ends need to do a lot of dirty work without the ball in their hands to help the team and they offered no such help last night. After Jermaine Gresham got the pairing off to a solid start on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage, driving Philip Wheeler back and to ground in the hole leading for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, things fell apart with their blocking in every phase of the game.
Eifert registered a season-high 13 snaps out of the backfield, but was ineffective as a run blocker (-2.4) while Gresham struggled in the passing game both blocking for Dalton (three hurries allowed) and in the open field most notably with an unnecessary hold which wiped out a touchdown for Marvin Jones. Some might say the penalty was a pretty weak call by the officials, but there is no doubt Gresham had a hand around the jersey and with Jones already gone up the sideline there was no need to create the situation where the official could throw the flag.
With emerging (Marvin Jones) and returning (Andrew Hawkins) weapons at wide receiver, might it be time to ride or die with Dalton, his receivers, and Bernard in a slightly more expansive offense if the tight ends continue to struggle as blockers?
Miami – Three Performances of Note
After his spectacular start to the season in Cleveland (3 Sk, 3 Ht, 4 Hu; +7.2 pass rush) Cameron Wake has been slowed or absent through injury the rest of the way, but he returned with a bang last night. Registering seven total pressures (3 Sk, 4 Hu), Wake was a menace throughout the game and, of course, closed it out as only two other defenders in history have done before him with an overtime safety to send the Dolphins to a pivotal victory.
Getting things started with a pass-rushing tri-fecta (sack, forced fumble and recovery) in the first quarter after fighting to the outside of Andre Smith, he got his second sack at the start of the second stanza by illustrating the relentless motor that goes with his tremendous pass-rushing ability. Wake drove Smith back for the initial disruption — Smith recovered, but Dalton had been flushed. Wake then tracked out to Dalton to finish the play in the right flat for Jared Odrick. The final sack, much like Bernard’s touchdown run, goes without much description but could be the pivotal play in Miami’s season if they can build form here.
Mixed Night for Grimes
Having recorded a pick-six that established a two-touchdown lead, you would think that Brent Grimes would have had a great game last night and earned quality grade to build on his +6.3 coverage grade entering the game. As impressive as the pick-six was, and his tackle on Mohamed Sanu in overtime, that would ignore what was a rough night outside of some big plays.
Grimes matched the exploits of rookie corner D.J. Hayden by missing six tackles from his corner spot (as many as he missed in the 2010 season with the Falcons) that helped toward the 111 yards on eight receptions that he surrendered to a trio of Cincinnati receivers, principally A.J. Green. If you pinpoint key plays then without doubt Brent Grimes had a pivotal, positive, impact on this game for the Bengals. However, as a full body of work (-1.3), Grimes also had a hand in this game being as close as it was for the Dolphins.
Impact Performing from the Impact Signing
There have been some questions raised about the impact the Dolphins have got from their big-budget wide receiver this season. Last night, however, Mike Wallace certainly left a positive impact on the game as he renewed acquaintances with former divisional foe Terence Newman. On the stat sheet he notched 82 yards receiving (third most of the season) including his third 40+ yard play of the season to help set up the Dolphins’ opening score of the game. However, probably the biggest play he made you won’t find on the stat sheet, it was the pass interference penalty he drew from Newman in overtime.
Having burned Newman, he left the Bengals’ corner with no choice but to haul him down and live to fight another down. To an extent Newman’s tactic worked as the Dolphins’ drive flamed out without another first down. However it afforded the Dolphins the opportunity to pin the Bengals to their own goal line, an opportunity the Bengals had just spurned with an average punt from inside the Miami 40. Where the Bengals didn’t execute on special teams, the Dolphins did. Wallace’s play to draw the penalty set up the special teams which set up the defense to win the game; all three units working together to see the Dolphins over the finishing line.
– The Miami defense offered plenty of ammunition to those who suggest that tackling standards are worse in Thursday games than those played on Sundays and Mondays. The Dolphins missed a scarcely believable 23 tackles last night.
– A snapshot of the potential effect of the loss of Geno Atkins on the Cincinnati pass rush? The Bengals registered only five pressures (2 Sk, 1 Ht, 2 Hu) after he went down with just less than five minutes left in the second quarter.
– Forcing seven missed tackles on 13 touches with 7.9 yards per carry after first contact Giovani Bernard registered an Elusive Rating of 424.8 last night. For the season he now has a 49.6 rating, good for 12th in the league.
PFF Game Ball
Giovani Bernard’s departure left the door open for a Dolphin to be the game winner and Cameron Wake slanted inside of Kevin Zeitler to dive right through that door and win the game and the PFF Game Ball on the final play of the game.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.