NFL Preview - Miami (1-3) at Cincinnati (3-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - "I'm such a baby 'cause the Dolphins make me cry."
Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish wasn't afraid to express his allegiance to his favorite team back in the late 1990s and Miami hasn't been relevant since, save a few playoff wins.
Rucker has to be shedding tears after the Dolphins dropped their second straight overtime game last week in Arizona. They will try to right the ship Sunday with a road test against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
It's been a topsy-turvy four games for the Dolphins, as they were rocked at Houston in Week 1 before returning to the Sunshine State to blow out Oakland. An overtime loss to the rival New York Jets in Week 3 preceded last week's 24-21 OT loss at Arizona in which rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for a career-best 431 yards with a touchdown pass, but was intercepted twice. The yards passing broke Dan Marino's rookie record.
"He threw the ball well," Dolphins first-year coach Joe Philbin said. "We (offensive coordinator Mike Sherman) were pleased. I thought he looked like a pro NFL quarterback. He threw the ball well, had some good accuracy, made some plays and made some tough throws as well."
Tannehill was intercepted by Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes in overtime and Arizona eventually moved into field-goal territory. Tannehill also fumbled and the Cardinals later tied the game at 21-21 with 22 seconds remaining in regulation. Philbin said the Dolphins must compliment both sides of the football and that it's not a good recipe for success when you turn the ball over that many times late in the game on the road. Finishing games better and having both faith and confidence in each other is what makes a team better, according to the rookie coach.
"There's certainly things from an execution standpoint we have to do a better job of," Philbin said. "One obvious one is the fourth quarter. We gotta do a better job. Part of that is execution and part of it is staying the course."
Philbin said he likes what he sees in Tannehill and the offense, and was pleased with the performances from both Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. The wide receivers combined for 376 yards and a touchdown on 19 catches, while Hartline set a franchise record with 253 yards receiving on 11 catches.
Miami's defense is stout against the run, as evidenced by it's No. 1 ranking (56.8 ypg), but will facing a tough challenge with Cincinnati's young weapons in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. The Dolphins are just 30th in pass defense, allowing 297.8 ypg, and Philbin knows his team will be in for a long afternoon if it's not prepared.
"It's going to be a big challenge. There's no question about it," Philbin said. "They're a very good football team. They do have balance. Dalton's obviously gotten off to a great start in his career. They've got some big-time weapons that we're gonna have to contain."
Cincinnati's defense is coming off a strong outing in Sunday's 27-10 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew was held to 38 yards on 13 carries and quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked six times, twice by defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Safety Chris Crocker recorded the first interception of the season for the Bengals in his initial game. Crocker was just added Thursday to the injury-riddled secondary. Perhaps his presence in the defensive backfield is what Cincinnati needed.
"Chris Crocker played a great game," said defensive tackle Domata Peko, who added that the Bengals' best defense is still to come. "He gets all the guys in the back on the same page and that's something we've been missing."
The Bengals haven't lost since a season-opening debacle against rival Baltimore and are averaging 33 points per game during their three-game winning streak.
Even though Cincinnati was able to contain Jones-Drew, they have another test ahead with Reggie Bush and a few solid wideouts in Hartline and Bess. The Bengals are 24th against the rush (133.5 ypg) and 16th in pass defense (232.0), so Sunday's showdown with the just-as-young Dolphins could be tough. Miami is ninth in total yards (397.0 ypg), while Cincinnati is 19th, allowing 365.5 yards per game.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the defense needs to be more consistent, especially in the running game. All 11 defenders must know what's happening at all times with stunts and blitzes, and gaps have to be filled or otherwise they will struggle.
"We just have to keep moving forward and getting better each and every week," Lewis said. "We've got another formidable challenge coming in here this week. We know that."
If the Bengals, who outgained Jacksonville 382-212, can continue the recent scoring trend, they should be in good shape to remain at the top in the AFC North with the Ravens.
Miami defeated Cincinnati, 22-14, the last time these two teams met on October 31, 2010. The Dolphins have won six of their previous seven trips to the Queen City.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Bush and Tannehill will give the Bengals fits if the home team is not prepared. Bush was expected to miss last week's loss to the Cardinals with a knee issue, but was able to carry the ball 17 times for 67 yards. He is averaging 92.2 rushing yards per game and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry as a Dolphin (282 carries, 1,455 yards in 19 games). Cincinnati is 24th against the rush, allowing 133.5 ypg, while Miami is fifth in rushing (153.2 ypg).
Tannehill, whose 431 passing yards fell one shy of Newton's NFL record for a rookie, hopes to have another impressive outing against a Bengals squad that allows 232.0 passing yards per game. Of course, Tannehill had Hartline and Bess racking up 100 yards receiving last week. Tannehill got another weapon when the Dolphins signed receiver Jabar Gaffney this week. Cincinnati was banged up in the secondary a week ago and was missing Jason Allen, Nate Clements, Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick. Hall and Clements are the Bengals' best defensive backs, but Crocker did a nice job in filling in.
"I played a little nickel and I played a little safety in the base," Crocker said. "That's what you have to do nowadays. You've got to be versatile. You can't be just an in-the-box safety."
Lewis has his fingers crossed that Hall and Clements will be back Sunday.
Can the Dolphins stop Cincinnati's latest scoring surge? It could happen. They held the undefeated Cardinals under 300 yards (297) of offense and intercepted Kevin Kolb twice. Kolb, though, threw for 324 yards with three touchdown passes, two of which came in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Sean Smith recorded both of Miami's interceptions.
The Dolphins, who have the top rushing defense in the league, are one of the worst against opposing aerial attacks, allowing 297.8 yards per game. Bengals young receiver A.J. Green had six catches for 117 yards for the first back-to- back 100-yard games of his short career. Dalton has been dangerous in the fourth quarter this season and that seems to be the time when Miami breaks down. Dalton owns an NFL-best 151.7 passer rating in the final stanza.
Miami defensive end Cameron Wake broke out with a career-high 4 1/2 sacks and the team finished with eight. Wake registered his seventh multi-sack game of his career, but wasn't concerned with personal achievements afterward.
"One play. There was probably four or five opportunities to make one play, whether it was a catch, a sack, an interception or a big run, whatever it is and they made it and we didn't," Wake said. "We knew it was going to be one of those kind of games but to lose like this in overtime is really tough."
Losing two straight overtime games would stick in the craw of any head coach. Philbin mentioned how the Dolphins need to correct their mistakes and finish off games in the fourth quarter, and the players can prove they were listening by going to Paul Brown Stadium and slowing down a suddenly-surging Bengals squad. Tannehill is starting to come around and live up it to his first-round billing and Bush has another week under his belt to rest, which is why Miami will win a close one Sunday. A hampered Cincinnati secondary will be put to the test early and ultimately the reason for the Bengals' demise.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 23, Bengals 21
10/04 15:10:55 ET