Dolphins at Bengals: Game preview, odds, prediction

Under-performing defenses will be spotlighted when the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins meet in Week 4.

The Bengals will host the Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night, keen to rebound from a 29-17 defeat to the Denver Broncos in their home opener in Week 3. It was a game where a normally stout Bengals defense allowed Denver’s first-year starting quarterback Trevor Siemian to throw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.

Broncos wideouts Emmanuel Sander and Demaryius Thomas both enjoyed 100-yard receiving days, as a previously struggling Denver passing game dominated. This isn’t supposed to happen to a Cincinnati secondary featuring Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback. It isn’t supposed to happen when the Bengals have linemen Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap bringing the heat.

However, defensive underachievement isn’t just limited to the Queen City. The Dolphins know all about struggles on that side of the ball, after giving up 430 yards to the dismal Cleveland Browns in Week 3.

Head coach Adam Gase naturally expected more after adding end Mario Williams, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell to a unit already featuring linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. New coordinator Vance Joseph was supposed to simplify things around a more attacking philosophy, but the results haven’t been showing up on the field through three games.

Odds

Line: CIN (-7)
Over/Under: 43.5

Both defenses have the star power to be perform at a higher level, but the Bengals have sorely missed one player. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been serving a suspension, but the bruising hitter might be back this week, with ESPN’s Katherine Terrell confirming how the Bengals could activate him in time for Thursday:

A return from Burfict would provide a major fillip for what’s been a surprisingly feeble run defense so far this season. Granted, the Bengals were stingier on the ground in Week 3, limiting Denver’s rushing attack to just 52 yards.

Still, both teams have a lot to prove regarding their ability to stop the run, as Jay Morrison of the Cox Media Group has pointed out:

Miami’s woes repelling the run could lead to a long overdue breakout game for either Jeremy Hill or Giovani Bernard. One of these Bengals runners needs to step up and make the lead role their own.

There may not be a preference for head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, although both payers offer different running styles. Bernard is a slashing speedster, while Hill is more north-south. He’s a tough grinder who can be very effective on lead draws and inside counters.

Of course, those plays would mean running into what should be the strength of the Dolphins defense, the tackle tandem of Suh and Chris Jones. The former is one of the big names who need to live up to their reputations and price tags on this defense, according to Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald.

Suh’s inconsistency means the Bengals may be wise to keep things on the ground, especially if Tyler Eifert isn’t healthy enough to play. Lewis thinks his dangerous tight end may be ready, though, per Terrell:

Eifert has been a big miss in the Cincinnati passing game, particularly as a safety valve for quarterback Andy Dalton. The erratic passer looked lost against the Broncos swarming pass defense in Week 3, with many of his worse throws coming over the middle. Eifert could solve the issue thanks to his flair for working the hook and curl zones and stretching the seams.

If Eifert can’t go, the Bengals would be smart to get rookie receiver Tyler Boyd more involved, after the 2016 second-round pick caught just three passes against the Broncos. The lack of targets wasted Boyd’s knack for getting open underneath and making yards after the catch, qualities he showcased during a six-reception, 78-yard effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2.

Dalton needs to rebound from a sloppy display, but Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill still needs to convince people he’s a starter who can win consistently. Tannehill has been hesitant during three games, but he’ll be encouraged by what Siemian did against these Bengals.

Specifically, he found joy with long completions on extended pass routes. NFL Research detailed how successful Siemian was whenever he pushed the ball vertical:

The Dolphins have the weapons to execute a similar strategy this week. In fact, wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker have all combined for 12 receptions of 20 yards or more, per ESPN.com.

Landry’s the main threat, but another of Tannehill’s targets could prove just as effective, provided he’s used right. Dion Sims is an underrated tight end with the size, strength and savvy to victimize linebackers underneath. The 6,4″, 271-pounder knows how to find space in the shallow zones and also has the leaping ability to make contested catches.

If the Dolphins can protect Tannehill, he can exploit a struggling Cincy pass defense. His performance will be key, but the game will ultimately be decided by the quarterback who enjoys the support of a competent running game, along with a defense able to make plays in the clutch.

Home advantage gives the Bengals a slight edge.

Pick: Bengals 24, Dolphins 20

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