The Bengals have a sellout for Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Dolphins (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) and the Bengals.com media roundtable is sold on the idea that the Bengals are going to handle their third rookie quarterback in a month and go to 4-1 for the third time under head coach Marvin Lewis.
The previous two times they won the AFC North, but it won't be easy against the top-ranked Dolphins rush defense run by a man that knows the Bengals inside and out. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was an integral part of those division championships as the secondary coach when the Bengals set the club record for interceptions in 2005, and in 2009 when cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph were arguably the Bengals co-MVPs.
But former Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, one of Coyle's former players now an analyst for the Bengals Radio Network, doesn't think the Dolphins have enough firepower to keep up with Cincinnati's offense.
Rich Gannon, the former Raiders quarterback that didn't throw a touchdown pass or interception in his win against the Bengals in Coyle's second game as secondary coach (Sept. 14, 2003), is in town for CBS-TV to call the game with the legendary Marv Albert and calls for "a very close game" that the Bengals pull out at the end with some sort of big play.
Miami native Alex Marvez, NFL guru for Foxsports.com and Sirius Radio, has covered both the Bengals and Dolphins and he thinks Cincinnati has the upper hand because he doesn't think Miami can match up with the fleet fleet of receivers.
Ben Volin, the Dolphins beat man for the Palm Beach Post, casts the one dissenting vote for Miami but it's more of a gut call because he sees the Bengals offensive line stopping Miami's pass rush. After two straight overtime losses he thinks the Dolphins are due in a tight, low-scoring game.
Let's go around the table:
The Bengals are stout on both sides of the line so that seems to be strength vs. strength. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake is coming off that 4.5-sack game against (rookie) Bobby Massie, but he didn't have a sack in his three previous games. I think tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith slow down the pass rush and that quarterback Andy Dalton is going to have time to throw.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing well for a rookie, although he's made some rookie mistakes with six interceptions. They've had trouble picking up the blitz and teams have had some free shots on him. But Tannehill has played well against pressure and threw for 306 yards last week in Arizona against the blitz alone. I would think Cincinnati wants to keep him in the pocket and make him make the right read. That's where he struggles.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush has been banged up, but he looks healthier this week and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets more work running the ball so they can take more off Tannehill's plate.
Along with Bush, they've got some pretty good weapons on third down. Davone Bess (with an AFC-best nine catches for 142 yards) is a fast guy in the slot and tight end Anthony Fasano is a good target for him. They've been good on third down. (Miami is seventh in the NFL converting on third down 43.5 percent of the time.)
The Dolphins did a pretty good job with Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald last week. He scored a touchdown, but he only had 64 yards and they did it primarily with cornerback Sean Smith getting help from a safety over the top. You'd think that's how they'll try to cover A.J. Green. They've been good at not giving up big plays for the most part and haven't allowed a 15-yard run yet.
They've had problems with blitz pickups, but the offensive line has done a pretty good job in protection even though (four-time Pro Bowl left tackle) Jake Long has given up three sacks and Carlos Dunlap gets a rookie at right tackle in second-rounder Jonathan Martin.
THE EDGE: Dolphins, 21-17. I've got a funny feeling about this one. The Dolphins are coming off two losses in overtime they should have won and they seem to have bought into what (new head coach) Joe Philbin is trying to do. I think they're due.
Kevin Coyle knows all about these weapons other than A.J. Green. He knows how dynamic Andrew Hawkins is in the slot and what kind of a target Jermaine Gresham is as a tight end down the seam and how much trust Andy Dalton has in A.J.
I think Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake is a tough matchup for them. I know he didn't have a sack in the first three games before he got the rookie, but he hit the quarterback 16, 17 times. He's a tremendous pass rusher and I think it's funny that the two best athletes came out of the Canadian Football League: Hawkins and Wake.
The Bengals have to find the high-percentage passes to neutralize the rush. Bubble screens. Kevin is going to blitz, but he'll be measured. Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith is a good player and I would think he'll shadow Green and that they'll try to take him out of the game. But then again, Kevin knows what the guys other than A.J. can do.
The Dolphins have a good offensive line and the big matchup there is their center, Mike Pouncey, on Geno Atkins.
But if the Bengals have a healthy Leon Hall at cornerback, they'll have the edge. If they don't, the Dolphins are going to have the edge because Bess is a very dangerous player in the slot. If they have anybody else in there trying to cover Bess, I think it's a mismatch but Leon can do it if he's healthy.
I think they're OK on the outside. Brian Hartline is a good technique player, but Terence Newman and Adam Jones have held up on the corner. They've got to be careful of Reggie Bush. They're not great in space or with open-field tackling at the linebacker level and those are two things they're going to have to do against Bush.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 24-14. They have more weapons. They can go deep and the Dolphins can't. These next two games heading into the Steelers game are pivotal for the Bengals. They're still coming of age and they can't go into the Pittsburgh game 3-3 or even 4-2. Over the last two years, the Dolphins have struggled in games decided by three points or less (1-7) and I think the theme continues where they haven't been able to finish games.
I think it's going to be a very close game. Miami is a better team than they've been given credit. They've lost two straight in overtime and we did one of them and I was impressed with their defensive line and linebackers. They've got a good front seven, but I think they struggle in the back end and the Bengals have advantageous matchups not just with A.J. but the rest of the receiving corps with Gresham and Andy's ability to throw the ball.
The Bengals defense is playing well with all the sacks and the Dolphins have had trouble protecting the quarterback in blitz situations and I think that will be an issue. The big thing is stopping Reggie Bush and making them as one-dimensional as possible.
To me, the quarterback (Tannehill) is impressive. He reminds me a little bit of Andy Dalton last year. He's poised. He's very impressive in terms of his ability to change protections and recognize issues. You can tell he's comfortable in this system because he played in it in college.
The Bengals have a good matchup with (left end) Carlos Dunlap on the rookie tackle (Jonathan Martin), but I've got to believe Mike Zimmer saw what happened last week when not once, but twice, Miami failed to pick up the blitz right up the A gap. It cost them the game. It led to a sack and fumble in the fourth quarter (which led to the tying touchdown with 29 seconds left on fourth-and-10) and to an interception (which led to the winning field goal.)
THE EDGE: Bengals, 27-17. Kevin Coyle knows the Bengals strength and weaknesses and where the issues are, but on the flip side I'm sure Andy has sat down with Mike Zimmer and they've gone over some things, too. They're very similar defenses. I like Cincinnati at home. I think it's a close game. I think it comes down to the Bengals taking control late with a turnover or a big play.
I don't think the Dolphins can stop A.J. Green and all the other weapons the Bengals have. I have no confidence in their secondary and I think they're a bit overrated on defense. They've gone against three straight bad offenses (the Cardinals are 31st, the Raiders are 22nd, and the Jets are 28th) and when they go against a real offense I think they'll struggle.
Tannehill is making some rookie mistakes and they haven't been able to get Bush going. He doesn't have a lot of guys to throw to and I just think they're a team that's in transition and trying to find its way.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 31-17. I think the Bengals have made great improvements from week to week. I think they fell off the radar after the big Monday night loss to open the season and a lot of people wrote them off. But they're under the radar again and good for them. They went on the road the last two weeks and won and I think they're surging and getting better and better. The Dolphins are 1-3 because they're 1-3 and the Bengals don't lose to bad teams very often.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It's a good warmup for Cincinnati's AFC North showdown in the next two weeks with Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Dolphins are physical, have good offensive and defensive lines, and are going to put pressure on the Bengals nickel package with dangerous receivers like Reggie Bush and Davone Bess, and a resourceful receiver in Brian Hartline that have churned out a 43.5 conversion percentage on third down.
That's good for seventh in the NFL, but the Bengals are seventh in the league at preventing third-down conversions and their nickel package looks to be getting healthier and healthier. Cornerback Leon Hall and safety-corner Nate Clements practiced full on Friday and their best pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap, is getting his legs under him in his third straight game.
Lewis is letting people guess if Hall and Clements are going to play, but this isn't a guess. The Bengals need the DBs more than they did last week in Jacksonville. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked downfield once a quarter and that won't happen this Sunday. Tannehill is averaging more than two yards per throw than Gabbert.
Plus, if the Bengals have to go into the cupboard, Coyle knows the tendencies of every DB they can put out there.
The Bengals have to eliminate the turnovers. They've run out of their nine lives already there already this season with their three wins coming at minus-one and you wonder what the law of averages might do to the next minus effort.
But coordinator or no coordinator, the Bengals are hot. Green is second in the NFL in yards receiving. According to Elias, Green's 428 receiving yards are second most through four games in Bengals history behind Chad Johnson's 495 in 2007 on his way to the club record. Green and Hawkins are among the leaders for yards after catch. Dalton is the fifth highest-rated passer in the NFL and is the best in the fourth quarter.
And Dolphins starting cornerback Richard Marshall (back) has been ruled out. The Bengals also seem to have an edge in the kicking game. Dan Carpenter beat them here two years ago with five field goals, but he's 1-for-3 between 40 and 49 yards this season.
But the biggest thing going for the Bengals is depth on either side of the ball, as it has been in the last three games. Their backup corners have held up and their backup receivers have put up big numbers. After Hartline and Bess, the Dolphins have four catches for 31 yards and no touchdowns from their wide receivers. After Green and Armon Binns, the Bengals have 20 for 336 and 3 TDs.