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NFL Preview - Miami (3-3) at Cincinnati (2-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Hey, somebody crank up the Mayflower moving vans.
Though their relocation options in Florida are admittedly limited to outposts like Ocala, Fort Walton and Coconut Creek, perhaps it's still time the amalgam of owners with a piece of the Miami Dolphins consider a change of scenery for a clearly confused franchise.
Branded before the season as a likely contender for AFC East supremacy, the Dolphins have instead floundered in their Jimmy Buffett-sopped Sun Life Stadium environs, losing all three home dates while going an equally unlikely 3-for-3 in trips away from Miami-Dade County.
Most important among the trio of failed backyard games -- losses to division- rivals New England and the New York Jets, who've each won five of six overall to put Miami in a two-plus game hole in the East, where they lead only the winless Buffalo Bills in the four-team loop.
A 23-22 home loss to Pittsburgh last weekend was particularly galling, featuring mass officiating confusion that transformed an apparent end-zone fumble recovery by the Dolphins into an 18-yard Jeff Reed field goal that iced the game for the visiting Steelers with 2:51 remaining.
To his credit, a seething Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano deflected heat from the officials and steered it instead toward his team's scoring-zone offensive efforts, which yielded five Dan Carpenter field goals and just one touchdown -- a 26-yard pass from quarterback Chad Henne to wide receiver Davone Bess.
Miami has scored on six of 12 possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line, which ranks 18th in the league. And in six games, the Dolphins have only 10 touchdowns and have never scored more than two in a week.
"You would think that you would score more points than, than that," Sparano said. "We need to score more points than that. That's the bottom line."
On the other side, scoring's not been the biggest problem.
The Cincinnati Bengals have mustered 132 points through six games, landing four times in the 20's and once in the 30's, with just one victory to show for it in those five outings. In fact, their season-low output of 15 points yielded the schedule�s signature win -- a 15-10 downing of division-rival Baltimore in Week 2.
A next-week defeat of Carolina has since been followed by losses at Cleveland, at home against Tampa Bay and at Atlanta, leaving the Bengals -- who won the division after going 6-0 within it last season -- three games behind the first-place Steelers and another 2 1/2 in back of the Ravens.
The next six games after facing Miami get little easier, with Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Buffalo, the Jets, New Orleans and Pittsburgh again following the Dolphins on the docket.
"As a football team goes, I think we have a good group of players that are going to perform and be pros, take a look at themselves, don't look any further than the end of their nose and know that our opportunity to be successful long-term lies right there in front of them," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Miami has a 12-5 advantage in its regular-season series with Cincinnati, but the Bengals have prevailed in the last two matchups between the teams, including a 38-25 verdict in South Florida in the final game of the 2007 campaign that capped off a 1-15 season for the Dolphins. Miami hasn't been to Cincinnati since being dealt a 16-13 loss at Paul Brown Stadium in 2004, which snapped a streak of nine straight wins for the Dolphins over the Bengals. Miami is 7-3 in 10 all-time visits in the Queen City, however.
The only postseason meeting between the Dolphins and Bengals came in a 1973 AFC Divisional Playoff, when Miami won a 34-16 decision en route to a Super Bowl title.
Lewis is 2-0 against the Dolphins, while Sparano will be meeting both Lewis and Cincinnati for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Expect field goals. The Dolphins saw five drives end with three points instead of six, a serious concern for Sparano in a one-point loss. Miami has struggled all season to put up big numbers, averaging just 342 yards per game and compiling a minus-two turnover margin through six games. Gaudy offseason acquisition Brandon Marshall has come in and produced as advertised as the top receiver, hauling in 42 passes for 524 yards and a 12.5-yard average, but has just one touchdown. The 42 catches are third-best in the conference and his road yardage average is 83.7 per week. Alongside Marshall, recent contract extension recipient Bess aims for a fourth straight game with a touchdown catch. He's caught five-plus passes in five of six games this season. Their passing partner, Henne, has been solid on the road as well, completing 53-of- 88 passes for 527 yards and an 83.9 passer rating in three away-from-home wins this season. In his backfield, running back Ricky Williams is 41 scrimmage yards short of Larry Csonka for fourth place in franchise history.
The Bengals will be without a recent difference-maker among the ball stoppers after cornerback Adam Jones was placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering a herniated disc in his neck in last week's 39-32 loss at Atlanta. A fourth-year player, Jones had a 59-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Falcons and had compiled an interception and 14 solo tackles in five previous games. Among those still in the healthy fold, cornerback Leon Hall is tied for first in the AFC and second in the NFL with four interceptions. The team's allowance of 340 yards per week is made up of 118 yards on the ground and 222 through the air. Foes have compiled a 4.5-yard average on 157 rush attempts, while completing 59.5 percent of their passes for nine touchdowns and 1,332 yards. Safety Chris Crocker has gotten through for the Bengals' team-high two sacks, one-third of the subpar overall total of six. Linebacker Dhani Jones leads Cincinnati with 46 tackles, while Crocker is No. 2 with 35 stops.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
The names and the production are big, even if the win totals haven't been. Cincinnati has averaged 371 yards per game through six games, but saw its 32 points go by the boards against the Falcons in Week 7. As mentioned, Cincinnati has scored 20 or more in five of six games, but ironically, won the one game in which it posted a season-low 15 points against Baltimore. The weekly average of 371 total yards is split between a respectable 100.2 on the ground and an equally-passable 270.8 through the air, and the Bengals' 11 turnovers have nonetheless yielded a plus-3 turnover margin. Well-traveled receiver Terrell Owens is third in the AFC with 564 yards on 40 catches and has scored three times. In his last matchup with Miami, he had a 51-yard touchdown, and he's looking for a fourth straight game with a scoring catch. Quarterback Carson Palmer is unbeaten in two career games against Miami and has compiled a 100.9 passer rating in his last three starts. The Bengals are 9-1 when running back Cedric Benson gains at least 100 yards.
For Miami, defense has been a case of now you see it, now you don't. The Dolphins have allowed 10 points or less in two games and exactly 20 points once. Contrastingly, they gave up 23 to the Steelers last week, 31 to the New York Jets and 41 in a special-teams debacle against New England. Overall, the team's allowance of 317.3 total yards per week includes a somewhat porous 100.8 on the ground and the remaining 216.5 though the air. Linebacker Cameron Wake's six sacks are tied for second in the conference, and he has four in his last three games. Also, rookie linebacker Koa Misi -- a second-round pick in April's draft -- has 2 1/2 sacks in his last three tests. He's second among rookies with 3 1/2 overall. In the backfield, cornerback Jason Allen's three interceptions are tied for third in the AFC. Backfield mate Yeremiah Bell had both a sack and a forced fumble against Pittsburgh from his safety spot. Bell also leads the team in tackles with 46, including 37 solo stops.
Marshall, as usual, leaps off the page as a must-start, while Bess is slowly climbing the ranks himself. The matchup with Cincinnati screams for a running back play as well, though with Miami's shared-ball approach involving Williams and Ronnie Brown, the proposition loses luster. Carpenter will also thrive as long as the red-zone offense struggles. Owens makes the most sense for the Bengals, who get significant yards -- but not a great per-carry average -- from Benson. The Cincinnati kicker, Mike Nugent, might also warrant a play after hitting 14-of-16 three-point attempts through six games.
It's only Week 8, but a loss here puts one of the preseason playoff favorites into serious jeopardy. The Bengals have competed against good teams and stumbled against bad ones, while the Miami personalities have veered based on stadium surroundings. Given their overall soundness on offense, especially in a run game where the Bengals appear vulnerable, the Dolphins seem to be a surer bet. Look for the Williams/Brown tandem to carry the load, with the occasional nod to Marshall.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 24, Bengals 20
10/28 14:55:32 ET
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