Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (3-0) and Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) match up in six key areas ahead of Thursday’s Week 4 game at Paycor Stadium (8:15 p.m., WSFL, Prime Video):
When the Dolphins run: With 192 yards rushing and a 3.3 yards-per-carry average, the Mike McDaniel run game has yet to take off in Miami. Both numbers put the Dolphins second-to-last in the NFL through three weeks. Raheem Mostert (24 attempts, 78 yards) and Chase Edmonds (23 attempts, 79 yards) are splitting touches and have virtually identical stat lines. Edmonds was able to punch in two short touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills, though.
The Dolphins have had left tackle Terron Armstead playing through a toe injury, and right tackle Greg Little has played in place of Austin Jackson, who is on injured reserve. Tight end Durham Smythe, the better blocker between he and Mike Gesicki, nearly doubled Gesicki’s snap counts on Sunday in limited opportunities as Buffalo dominated time of possession.
The Bengals are sound in run defense, ranking eighth in yards against and seventh in yards per attempt. A big key in that is defensive tackle DJ Reader in the middle, but he’s dealing with a knee injury sustained against the New York Jets on Sunday. His availability could be key. Edge: Bengals
When the Bengals run: Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon has been off to a slow start after his Pro Bowl 2021 campaign where he ran for 1,205 yards. He’s getting his fair share of carries, at nearly 20 per game, but he’s only producing 2.8 yards per attempt.
As a team, the Bengals had their best rushing output in the opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers for 133 yards. Since, they’ve had 89 yards in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys and 69 in Sunday’s win at the Jets. Cincinnati may look to run behind its new right side of the line, where it has tackle La’el Collins and guard Alex Cappa.
The Dolphins are coming off back-to-back games against the Ravens and Bills where they surrendered greater than 100 yards rushing, but this isn’t a true indicator of their effectiveness stopping the run. They allowed mobile quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen to run against them for much of those numbers and had Bills tailback Zack Moss break off a long one to the outside that cornerback Nik Needham failed to contain. Miami just needs to avoid giving up the big plays in an otherwise consistent run defense. Edge: Dolphins
When the Dolphins pass: The big question mark here is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s availability as he deals with his back injury. Should he be unable to go, backup Teddy Bridgewater comes in. He’s an established veteran, but he didn’t look to have it in his limited snaps subbing for Tagovailoa before the Miami starter was able to return Sunday vs. the Bills.
We’ll give out the edge here assuming Tagovailoa, who said he plans on playing, can go and be close to his normal self. He still has speedsters Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who can flip a game in the snap of a finger, like was seen in the fourth quarter Sept. 18 in Baltimore. Hill is particularly motivated to face cornerback Eli Apple after last year’s AFC Championship Game, where Apple’s Bengals eliminated Hills’ former team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
With safety Jessie Bates III on the back end and defensive end Trey Hendrickson rushing the passer, Cincinnati presents a formidable pass defense that ranks around the middle of the league. Tagovailoa will hope to hit the big play to his speedy wide receivers, but Miami will also want to pick up first downs and sustain drives to give their defense a breather after the Dolphins were more than doubled in time of possession against Buffalo. Edge: Dolphins
When the Bengals pass: Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow hasn’t put up gaudy numbers early in 2022 coming off his Super Bowl appearance last year, but the 2020 draft’s No. 1 pick has to be respected, nonetheless. In three games, Burrow is completing 64 percent of passes for 812 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.
The four-interception figure is one that sticks out as Dolphins’ ballhawks in cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Jevon Holland are sure to be looking for a big game-changing play, especially after dropping recent opportunities at interceptions. Miami is looking to find the right balance of blitz vs. coverage as teams have proven to be better prepared for coordinator Josh Boyer’s blitzes to start out games, specifically Baltimore and Buffalo the past wo weeks, before Boyer adjusts in the second half. And it’s time to see Jaelan Phillips get his first sack of 2022.
The Bengals have playmakers for Burrow to throw to, between wide receivers in second-year star Ja’Marr Chase (21 receptions, 212 yards, two touchdowns), Tee Higgins (13 receptions, 191 yards, touchdown) and Tyler Boyd (10 receptions, 155 yards, two touchdowns), capable pass-catching back Mixon (13 receptions, 103 yards) and tight end Hayden Hurst (11 receptions, 77 yards). The Bengals’ offensive line, revamped after a much-maligned 2021 postseason, has allowed Burrow to be sacked 15 times in three games. That’s where the game could turn, but if Burrow gets the ball to those wideouts with Howard playing hurt and fellow cornerbacks Nik Needham and Kader Kohou not on their game, look out. Edge: Bengals
Special teams: The Dolphins are coming off an embarrassing special teams blunder that will go down as the “butt punt.” Punter Thomas Morstead kicked the ball into wide receiver Trent Sherfield’s backside to have it ricochet backward through the back of the end zone for a safety. Proud special teams coordinator Danny Crossman was not fond of having that breakdown a week after giving up a kick return touchdown.
Morstead has otherwise been solid, and so have gunners Jason Bethel and Keion Crossen. Kicker Jason Sanders hasn’t attempted a field goal in Miami’s past two games. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson, after a big postseason last year, has missed field goals in two of Cincinnati’s first three games. Trent Taylor averages 9.3 yards per punt return, and Kevin Huber is getting 48.7 yards per punt. Edge: Even
Intangibles: Thursday night games are just so difficult to play as the road team. Remember when the Dolphins, on Nov. 11 last year, as a near double-digit underdog at 2-7 against the rolling Ravens, handed it to Baltimore at home in that shocking upset? That’s the kind of effect the short week and ensuing travel can have on a team.
That is only further amplified by the grueling conditions the Dolphins just made it through in Sunday’s win at home over Buffalo. With the heat and humidity dropping bodies left and right for both teams, Miami’s defense played 92 total snaps. It will be difficult to overcome all of that, but they get the mini bye that follows. Edge: Bengals
PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Dolphins 23