Who: Dolphins (7-4) at Bengals (2-8-1)
When: Sunday, December 6, 1:00 EDT
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami, Fla.
Weather: 72 degrees, partly cloudy, 60 percent humidity, 9 MPH winds
The Dolphins and Bengals return to the scene of last December's epic overtime shootout for a rematch between Brian Flores' Dolphins and Zac Taylor's Bengals. Both head coaches are in their second season and have either matched or surpassed the win totals from their rookie campaigns.
Miami is rolling with wins in six of the last seven games and sitting at 7-4 through 11 games for the first time since 2016. Despite the success, Flores says the approach hasn't changed.
"You can't get to where you want to get without handling what's right in front of you," Flores said. "I don't know – maybe some other people can. That hasn't been the case for me in my life. You don't just jump to graduations and things of that – they don't just happen. You have to deal with what's in front of you. That's just been my approach."
Despite the Bengals' 2-8-1 record, they've been competitive all season. Losing the No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Joe Burrow is difficult, but the future remains bright in Cincinnati. Young players on offense and defense are contributing and the Dolphins will need another three-phased effort to get to 8-4.
Friday Injury Report and Roster News
The Miami Dolphins today announced they have placed running back Matt Breida on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Running backs DeAndre Washington and Salvon Ahmed are DOUBTFUL.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receiver/running back Malcolm Perry and offensive guard Solomon Kindley are QUESTIONABLE.
Cornerback Tony Brown and offensive guard Alex Redmond are OUT.
Defensive tackles Christian Covington and Xavier Williams, long snapper Clark Harris, offensive guard B.J. Finney, cornerback Darius Phillips, safety Brandon Wilson and wide receiver Mike Thomas are QUESTIONABLE.
Keep Forcing the Quarterback Issue(s)
Opposing quarterbacks have an 84.3 passer rating against the Dolphins this season, third-lowest in the NFL. Miami comes in with the league's stingiest third-down defense (32.8 percent conversion rate allowed), third most takeaways (19) and have made life hell on several quarterbacks.
Gardner Minshew, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff each had one of their two worst passer rating games this season against the Dolphins, and it's a team effort. Twelve Dolphins have at least a half of a sack and five or more quarterback pressures and 11 members of the Miami defense have had a hand in the 19 turnovers (interception, forced or recovered fumble).
Fourth-year quarterback Brandon Allen is up next. Replacing the injured Joe Burrow in the Bengals' loss to the Giants last week, the 2016 sixth-round draft pick completed 17-of-29 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Previously, in three starts with the Broncos in 2019, Allen completed 46.6 percent of his passes for 6.1 yards per attempt, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 68.3.
The Jets moved the chains just 10 times on the Dolphins defense last week while the Bengals picked up just 11 in their game vs. the Giants.
Finding Footing in the Ground Game
Running back Myles Gaskin's last game came in the Week 8 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. When he was placed on injured reserve, Gaskin was the leader on the team in rushing for six of the first seven Dolphins games. Since then, Salvon Ahmed led the way three times and DeAndre Washington had a team-high 49 yards on the ground last week in New York.
The decision to activate Gaskin, or not, won't be made until later this week.
"I know he's been working. He wants to get back in the worst way," Dolphins Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville said. "He's been in every meeting, he's been great and we just got to kind of see where it goes and take it when we get him on the field (Wednesday) and see what happens and see where everything is."
Last season, Gaskin got his first double-digit carry game against the Bengals in Week 16. He finished with 55 rushing yards and scored his first career touchdown. Whether it's Gaskin, Ahmed, Washington, Matt Breida or Patrick Laird, the Dolphins offense would benefit from generating balance heading into the stretch-run.
"As an offense, you just have to be good enough to counter what they do, and be able to adjust to take advantage of what they are doing," Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey said. "I still like to keep trying to run the football because I think you need that balance in there. Sometimes it's just not as productive as it needs to be. We have to find different ways to maybe get that done."
Taming Bengals Weapons
The Dolphins defensive backfield has been sterling all season. Miami's top five defensive backs in snaps played (Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain) have a collective passer rating against of only 71.2.
The Bengals come to town with a dangerous arsenal of weapons at Allen's disposal. Rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins' career is off to a red-hot start with 48 receptions, 637 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Tyler Boyd leads the team in catches (72) and receiving yards (725) with three touchdowns. Out of the backfield, Giovani Bernard had 484 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns.
Boyd does most of his work inside. Only Buffalo's Cole Beasley has more yards when aligned at the slot position (623 for Boyd, 631 for Beasley). Boyd is in the slot for 86.2 percent of his plays and 80 of his 92 targets come from that position. It's a big test for Needham who's played 349 of his 419 defensive snaps inside, per Pro Football Focus.
More Bengals Personnel
Second-year offensive tackle Jonah Williams has surrendered just 21 quarterback pressures on 406 pass blocking snaps (PFF). That 5.1 percent pressure rate is far and away the lowest on the team.
Defensive end Carl Lawson has double the quarterback pressures (36) of the Bengals' next best pocket disrupter (Sam Hubbard with 18).
Safety Jessie Bates III is developing into one of the premier ball-hawking safeties in the game. His three interceptions and 44.7 passer rating against both lead the team. His 90.9 PFF grade is tops on the Bengals among all NFL safeties.
The Bengals offense ranks 26th in scoring (20.9 PPG), 24th in total offense (331.5 YPG), 29th in rushing (96.3 RYPG) and 18th in passing yards per game (235.2 PYPG).
After Taylor's time in Miami (2012-2015 Assistant Quarterbacks and Quarterbacks Coach), he went to the college game before returning to the NFL. Taylor had success with Jared Goff and the Rams as the team's Quarterbacks Coach under Sean McVay before getting the head-coaching job in Cincinnati. The parallels between the two systems are evident.
Only one team runs 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) more than the Bengals (Chargers) while the Rams call it at the fourth-highest rate. Cincinnati is in that package 76.0 percent of the time with their second most-frequent package coming via 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), which is called 12.2 percent of the time.
Defensively, the Bengals rank 22nd in scoring (26.3 PPG allowed), 26th in total defense (390.5 YPG), 30th in rushing (136.7 RYPG) and 22nd in passing defense (253.7 PYPG).
Their 28.0 percent blitz rate is the 16th-highest rate in the NFL, but rank 31st in pressure rate at 16.4 percent. Few teams mix their defensive packages like Cincinnati under Defensive Lou Anarumo (another former Dolphins coach). The Bengals are in dime (six defensive backs) 13.6 percent of the time and nickel (five defensive backs) 64.9 percent of the defensive snaps.
With a win Sunday, the Dolphins would climb to 8-4, the team's best mark 12 games into a season since 2001 (9-3).
The Dolphins lead the all-time series over the Bengals 16-4 with a win in the lone postseason meeting.
After a two game road-trip, we're back at Hard Rock Stadium. We'll have the postgame recap story and Sunday spotlight on MiamiDolphins.com along with the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield. John Congemi joins Drive Time to cover his three takeaways, which will also be available on MiamiDolphins.com Monday morning.