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Pre-Game Notebook: Stretching Hopes For Reader; Zero Hour For Bengals' Burrow, Dolphins; Inactives


Now that Bengals nose tackle supreme D.J. Reader is on injured reserve with what is thought to be an MCL injury, the clock starts ticking on when he can return with hopes he can be back for a stretch run.

How good was the 28-year-old when he got hurt in the first half Sunday in New York? Pro Bowl good.

When Week 4 began Thursday night with Bengals-Dolphins at Paycor Stadium, he was ranked ahead of Rams Hall-of-Famer Aaron Donald in the Pro Football Focus ranking for defensive tackles at No. 2 with top ten seven grades in pass rush and run stops.

 With no corresponding moves, look for the Bengals to attack the Dolphins' 13th ranked offense the way they lined up against the Jets in the second half of a game they allowed no touchdowns. Veteran Josh Tupou, who has already started the last two games when they opened with as five-man line, almost assuredly starts this one. So if they go five-man again to start the game, third–round pick Zach Carter would get his first NFL start coming off a game he had a career-high 27 snaps after playing a combined 23 in the first two game.

Jay Tufele is the fourth defensive tackle in his first Bengals game after being inactive for the first three games. It's the fifth NFL game for Tufele after the 104th pick in the 2021 draft out of USC was claimed on waivers when the Jags released him on cutdown day.

ZERO HERO: A year ago Thursday night on this very spot, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow declared to the world "You can't zero (blitz) me," after Jacksonville failed in what was Burrow's first fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

No one zero blitzes more than Miami under defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. He's in his third season in the same gig and it's hard to see him pulling the plug on what they do even though it is high risk because it leaves basically virtually nobody on the last level with no help

But will they challenge, who

And the Dolphins have given up five touchdowns and have no picks against the blitz this season, according to Next Gen Stats, and a 140 passer rating.

"That's a huge part of what they do. We'll find out," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "They've been really good at it and they cause teams a ton of problems. We've got to be ready for it."

In Boyer's first season as the coordinator in 2020, Brandon Allen playing in place of Burrow and he caught them in a zero blitz for wide receiver Tyler Boyd's 72-yard touchdown for their only score of the game.

The Bengals not only have Burrow, but they've also had plenty of experience against that style of zero since the Bengals run editions of it.

"They check in and out of it," said Callahan as folks wonder if they'll show zero and then back out. "We prepare hard and our defense runs some versions of the same thing. We've seen it in training camp. Very similar in structure. It won't be a surprise when we see it. They don't really care, either, because they play it really well. There's going to be somebody free at some point.  They do a great job of driving and breaking on the ball. They've got great corners that can do it."

Dolphins No. 1 cornerback Xavien Howard (groin, glute) is playing despite being questionable. College free agent Kader Kohou has played well, Nik Needham is ranked 121 in coverage by Pro Football Focus and Byron Jones is still sidelined.

INACTIVES: Left guard Jackson Carman is inactive for the second straight week, as is running back Trayveon Williams, tackle D'Ante Smith and tight end Drew Sample. As expected, linebacker Germaine Pratt (knee) is back after missing last week in New York.

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