With right guard Alex Redmond (concussion) declared out of Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Miami, injuries have again forced the Bengals to start their fifth straight different offensive line. But could it be the one they used to start the season?
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Dolphins head coach Brian Flores made good Friday on their promises not to tell their big tell.
So the Bengals don't know who Miami is starting at quarterback and the Dolphins' second-ranked scoring defense doesn't know if Xavier Su'a-Filo is back at right guard after breaking his ankle back on Sept. 13 against the Chargers.
Taylor made it sound like he could be after his first week the man they call "X," made his mark working in with the first group. Before that, Su'a-Filo, a seven-year vet the Bengals signed up in free agency, has been up for a couple of week working with the scout team in what has been a rather quick recovery by a savvy pro.
"Xavier is one of these guys with an outstanding attitude and approach," Taylor said. "It's just trying to get some chemistry in with the five."
Left guard remains open, too. Taylor started things last Sunday before Redmond got hurt with Quinton Spain at left guard. After Opening Day left guard Michael Jordan's tough game in Washington, Taylor wanted to give the second-year player a break and we'll see if he'll extend it.
"Just take a break for a week or so and step back and look at it," Taylor told Bengals.com earlier this week. "It's hard. I know what he's dealing with, with guys like Cam Heyward in Pittsburgh and last week in Johnathan Allen in Washington. These guys are premier defensive tackles. And (Jordan) is still a young guy and he's going to get there."
INJURY UPDATE: Although they were marked as questionable after not practicing all week, indications were that long snapper Clark Harris (illness) and wide receiver Mike Thomas (hamstring) would play after they went full in Friday's practice. The same could be true for safety Brandon Wilson (hamstring). And maybe defensive tackle Christian Covington (illness) after he was limited.
ON THE CORNER: With Xavien Howard leading the NFL in interceptions with seven and Cowboys free agent Byron Jones playing well, everyone is raving about the Dolphins superb play at cornerback and rightfully so.
But according to Pro Football Focus, when it comes to snaps per reception, two Bengals cornerbacks, William Jackson III and Darius Phillips, are ranked higher than Howard and Jones. Yet Howard is ranked the overall No. 1 corner, so what does it all mean?
It means stats are only a small part of the deal and the Bengals have never had their big free agent cornerback (Trae Waynes) this season. But defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo likes what his cornerbacks have done lately. Jackson is ranked 35th overall among PFF cornerbacks and they think Phillips comes back Sunday after missing a month with a groin issue even though he missed Friday with an illness.
While Anarumo says LeShaun Sims, the starter opposite Jackson, has been "up and down," slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander has been really good after early-season injuries.
Alexander, who signed a one-year deal in free agency, allowed just two catches on nine targets last week and in the two games before that he allowed just a combined 35 yards on eight catches, according to PFF.
"I felt Will Jackson and Mackensie settled down and played solid the last few weeks," Anarumo said this week. "I know (Sims) wants to make every play out there and doesn't want to give up anything at all and sometimes it happens. We are working with him. I think that there's some improvement there than he can make — all of them, not just LeShaun, but all three guys … Phillips always adds a guy that's got good ball skills.
"They're getting better. I say all three, Mackensie, Will and LeShaun, those guys, they're the first ones in and the (last) ones out and they're working tirelessly to do as well as they can. We got our hands on a ton of balls last week in terms of PBUs (seven) and things. I know that one third-and-8 or third-and-9, (Sims) knows he came off the field (and said) 'My fault, I wanted to be tighter. Those are things we can fix."
MORE SECONDARY: And he really likes what he's getting out of the safeties. Free Jessie Bates III is having a Pro Bowlish year and he's unleashed Strong Vonn Bell a bit on the blitz and it's showing up.
"He's physical, you start with that. A guy that can penetrate the pocket when he gets on a (running) back he's got a chance to knock a back into the quarterback," Anarumo said. "He can get in there and generally cause havoc. We've gotten him to come free a few times which was great. We got a TFL last week which was wonderful, but he's a physical guy. That's a prerequisite of being a good blitzer. You are not going to go in there and be kicking the door down, you got to be physical as hell."
That use of Bell meant Anarumo needed a cover safety and he turned to the little-used Brandon Wilson. Wilson is a special teams workhorse and on Sunday while he had a 103-yard kick return, a tackle on the opening kickoff and a couple of forced fair catches on punts he also took a season-high 13 scrimmage snaps. He did give up a big pass to tight end Evan Engram on the sidelines, but he was in position.
"Brandon was draped all over him and it was a terrific throw and catch," Anarumo said. "Brandon couldn't have any better coverage you got to get the ball off the guy, obviously, but we felt he did a good job matching up. Whatever we feel the offense presents we are just trying to match what pieces we have to best stop what they are trying to do. Last week, it was try to get him on 88 in situations where we were blitzing."
FITZY OR TUA? Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) went limited again in practice Friday, hence the game-time call. If Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the nod, it marks the first time the Bengals face their former starting quarterbacks in back-to-back games with Andy Dalton coming to town next week with the Cowboys.
"I think they've done a lot of similar stuff, similar scheme," Bates said of how the Dolphins run it with those two. "They run boots from both sides. They don't do a lot of things different. I think Fitz sees it better obviously, because he's been in the league for a very long time. There may be things where he goes to the line and checks plays and stuff like that where Tua doesn't. I think we have a good feel for both of them whoever it may be. They're going to try to get the ball down the field and make explosive plays and we have to limit that."
THIRD DOWN FIRST PRIORITY: Even before Joe Burrow went down the Bengals were struggling on third down. It will be recalled the Bengals went into Pittsburgh smoking on third down, converting nearly 60 percent of the time (24-41) in their previous three games. But in the next three games it is 6-for-36. Plus, the Dolphins are No. 1 on third down with a Patriots-type discipline and disguise.
"One of the things is just being in more manageable third downs. Take advantage of first and second downs and keep the ball moving forward," said Bengals tight end Drew Sample of getting back on the money down track. "They do a lot of different things (on third down). They bring a lot of blitzes; they bring a lot of zero pressures and a lot of different things to try to get the offense off balance. Force the offense to make mistakes or do things that maybe they aren't as comfortable with.
" For us, it's all about the details and being able to go out there and execute the game plan that we have in place for them, and knowing they are going try to do different things like that."