8:25 PM EST – Line: Bengals -7.5, Over/Under: 45
A pair of teams desperately in search of a victory meet tonight in Cincinnati, as the reeling Bengals host the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. Though it’s been sold as yet another season of new beginnings, things have started all too familiarly for the Dolphins (1-2, 4th in AFC East), who continue to look up at their competition in the AFC East. After wholesale changes to the management structure, Adam Gase was crowned Head Coach, making him the youngest skipper in the league. After garnering much acclaim as an Offensive Coordinator in Denver and Chicago, where his brilliant work with the likes of Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, and even Tim Tebow continued to enhance his profile, Miami pounced on the opportunity to make their leading man. However, three games into the current campaign, and this team has the look of one in transition, as Gase and his Staff go about implementing their philosophies and teachings. And it’s with that said that across the board, this team has been, well, pretty average. Thus far, Miami’s offense has averaged 21.3 points (20th Overall) on 380.0 total yards (18th Overall) including 297.3 through the air (10th Overall) on 7.1 net yards per attempt (10th Overall) and another 83.0 yards via the run (25th Overall) on 4.1 yards per carry (13th Overall). That last bit there has been an issue, as Gase has strived for balance, but thanks to a rash of injuries has yet to enjoy a full complement of pieces with which to work with. Aging Tailback Arian Foster was curiously acquired in the Offseason to be anchor the ground game, but will continue to be sidelined with a strained groin, which if you remember, has given him problems in the past. Then again, it’s not as if Foster has been all that effective when he’s been healthy, averaging a meager 2.9 yards per carry. Indeed a good portion for their struggles in this regard can be attributed to missing bodies on their Offensive Line; Left Tackle Branden Albert has been hampered an ankle sprain that could very well keep him out of tonight’s action, while Mike Pouncey, their starting Center, will miss yet another game with an ailing hip. Of course, one can only imagine the effect that this all having on Ryan Tannehill, the 28-year old Quarterback, whom Gase was hired to get the most out of. Many viewed his previous struggles as limitations levied by the previous Coaching Staff, while others don’t particularly think very highly of his talent to begin with. Gase has worked his magic on many a Quarterback before, but it remains to be seen just how much further this kid will develop under his guidance. Through three games, Tannehill has completed 64.6% of his passes for an average of 297.3 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Last Sunday’s narrow 30-24 victory over the hapless Cleveland Browns served as a microcosm of his season thus far; Tannehill completed 25-of-39 passes for 319 yards and a trifecta of touchdowns, but also threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble. Furthermore, turnovers in general have plagued this team of late, as they’ve given away the ball on seven occasions in the past two games alone. Consistency is something this team needs in large doses, and if the early returns have proven anything, it’s that Gase and his Staff have quite the uphill battle ahead.
Meanwhile, after a torrid start to the previous campaign propelled them to their first division title since 2005, the Bengals (1-2, 3rd in AFC North) have found things much more difficult this time around, losing each of their past two outings after winning thier opener. Granted, the schedule hasn’t done them any favors, as facing the explosive Steelers and stifling Bronocs in consecutive weeks is indeed an arduous task. With that said, Marvin Lewis’ charges have been slow start, particularly on offense, where they haven’t enjoyed the sublime balance that became thier hallmark in recent years. One-dimensional would be the best way to describe this unit, who has struggled to muster just 82.0 yards per game on the ground (27th Overall), averaging a poor 3.7 yards per carry in the process (24th Overall). This has left veteran Quarterback Andy Dalton in a difficult position, as he has had to carry the unit against some aggressive opposition. Coming off his finest campaign as a professional, the 28-year old has been the victim of serious pressure, sustaining a dozen sacks through three games, four alone in last weekend’s 29-17 loss at home to Denver. With Pro Bow Receiver AJ Green (8 catches 77 yards) draped in coverage throughout the affair, Dalton crawled his way to 206 yards on 21-of-31 passing, with an interception, DESPITE the fact that his teammates managed to gash the Bronocs vaunted defense for 143 rushing yards on twenty-nine carries. Jeremy Hill, in particular was stellar, rushing for ninety-seven yards and a pair of touchdown on seventeen carries. Perhaps that’s a sign of things to come, which would serve as welcome news with Miami’s porous run defense on tap; the Dolphins have relinquished an average of 147.3 yards on the ground thus far, second-most in the league. Injuries, particularly at Linebacker, have decimated thier opponent’s Front Seven, but then again Cincinnati is hardly healthy themselves. The Secondary has been a soft spot of late, as Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick (Calf) and William Jackson (Pectoral) will be out tonight with a variety of injuries. This position group was already thin coming into the season after veterans such as Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson moved on in Free Agency. Factor in the continued rehab of fiery Middle Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and you have a defense who has lost a great deal of it’s playmaking teeth.
Predicted Outcome: Bengals 23, Dolphins 17