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Five things to watch: Bengals vs. Dolphins

QB Joe Burrow
QB Joe Burrow

The Bengals face a red-hot Dolphins team in a Thursday Night Football matchup at Paycor Stadium. Miami comes in as the AFC's lone unbeaten team at 3-0, and will provide a challenge for Cincinnati in all three phases.

Here are five things to watch between the Bengals and Dolphins on Thursday night. The game airs on Prime Video and WCPO.

1. Burrow vs. Tua, Part III

The first two quarterbacks taken in the 2020 NFL Draft are set to face one another for the first time in their NFL careers, as Joe Burrow leads the Bengals against Tua Tagovailoa's Dolphins.

Burrow, the No. 1 overall selection in 2020, and Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in that draft, have both gathered a wealth of experience in just over two years in the NFL. Burrow led his team to the Super Bowl in his second season, while Tua heads into Thursday's game playing perhaps the best football of his young career.

"He's playing well," said Burrow, who told the media Tuesday that he has remained in contact with Tagovailoa since their draft. "It's exciting to see. All the quarterbacks in our draft class have been playing well, and that's always exciting. The more talent, the better."

From 2018-19, the two star quarterbacks faced off twice, when Burrow played at LSU and Tagovailoa was at Alabama. Tua's Crimson Tide won the first matchup decisively in 2018, before Burrow and the Tigers earned a 46-41 win in an instant classic the following year. Burrow threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns in that contest, while Tagovailoa had 418 passing yards and four scores with an interception. Bengals wideout Ja'Marr Chase, who figures to play a large role in Thursday night's game vs. Miami, caught six passes for 140 yards and a touchdown as LSU's leading receiver.

Burrow remembers that game serving as validation, both for himself individually and for LSU in its quest for a national championship. For the Bengals to come out of Thursday with a home victory over a talented AFC contender in the Dolphins, Burrow will need to outduel his fellow former first-round draft choice.

2. Speed to burn on the outside

Fans will get a look at two of the NFL's premier wide receiver corps on Thursday. The Bengals, spearheaded by the trio of Tyler Boyd, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, will face a Miami secondary that has allowed 297.7 passing yards per game through three weeks (31st in the NFL). On the other side, the Dolphins boast a pair of downfield threats in Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, who rank second and third in the league, respectively, in receiving yards.

In 2021, Boyd, Chase and Higgins caught for a combined 3,374 yards, the most among any trio in the NFL. They have shined at different moments this season, as each has been the Bengals' receiving yardage leader through three games. Chase logged 129 yards in the season-opener vs. Pittsburgh, Higgins had 71 in Week 2 at Dallas and Boyd netted 105 last Sunday at the N.Y. Jets.

Waddle and Hill have been key components of the Dolphins' offense this season, which is in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring (27.7 points per game, eighth-most), and passing (291.3 yards per game, fourth). Waddle, the team's first-round draft pick in 2021, is coming off back-to-back games of 100 or more receiving yards for the first time in his career. Hill was acquired in a blockbuster trader during the offseason and has quickly developed chemistry with Tagovailoa, recording 21 receptions on 29 targets already this year. Of those 21 catches, eight have been for 15-plus yards.

3. Former Saints standouts

Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his dominant performance against the Jets, but his next assignment provides a significant challenge, along with some familiarity.

Hendrickson's path to Tagovailoa goes through Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead, a three-time Pro Bowler who was teammates with Hendrickson on the New Orleans Saints for four seasons. Armstead signed a lucrative deal with Miami over the offseason and has already shown why he is one of the league's premier tackles. In the Dolphins' Week 3 win over Buffalo, he lined up primarily against Bills edge rushing star Von Miller, who was held without a sack or a quarterback hit.

Hendrickson recorded 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles at New York, a career high for both. A duplicate performance against Armstead and the Dolphins will go a long way towards Cincinnati improving to 2-2.

4. Burrow's Thursday Night magic

Joe Burrow has played on Thursday Night Football twice in his career, and each time he completed at least 25 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.

In his TNF debut on Sept. 17, 2020 at Cleveland, Burrow set an NFL rookie record with 37 completions, and finished with 316 passing yards and three touchdowns. Though Cincinnati came up short in a 35-30 contest, Burrow led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter and helped the offense convert all five of its fourth-down attempts.

The Bengals faced a 14-0 halftime deficit against Jacksonville on Thursday night of Week 4 last season, before Burrow engineered four straight scoring drives in the second half to complete a memorable comeback win. He finished the game 25 of 32 for 348 yards and two touchdowns, but his best work came on the final possession to set up an Evan McPherson walk-off field goal, when he hit all five of his passing attempts for 68 yards.

5. Home field advantage

The Bengals and Dolphins have faced one another five times since 2013, with the home team taking each of those matchups. Cincinnati beat Miami on Thursday Night Football of Week 4 in 2016, a 22-7 win that saw the Bengals record five sacks on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In Week 5 of 2018, the Bengals trailed 17-0 midway through the third quarter before scoring 27 unanswered points, capped by a Sam Hubbard fumble return for his first career touchdown.

Cincinnati also has a 6-2 home record on Thursday Night Football, dating back to 1997.