The Miami Dolphins (7-4) enter Week 13’s contest against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1) largely in control of their playoff destiny. Miami may have quarterback questions, but regardless of who starts for the ‘Phins, he’ll be better than his Bengals counterpart.
The Dolphins look to build on last week’s successes against the Jets and solidify their postseason position. Here are five keys to the Dolphins-Bengals game in Week 13.
Dolphins-Bengals: Continue Defensive Dominance
The Dolphins sport one of the league’s top defenses. Miami’s D trails only the Pittsburgh Steelers in points-per-game, allowing a paltry 18.6 per contest this season. The Dolphins are tops in third-down D. Opponents convert just 32.8 percent of their those tries. Miami comes in third in takeaways with 19.
The main weakness for Miami has been defending the run. The Dolphins are in the bottom third of the league, allowing 129.9 rushing yards-per-game. But Sunday, their match up is with a Bengals squad missing starters at running back (Joe Mixon) and quarterback (Joe Burrow).
Cincinnati rushed the ball just nine times in their Week 12 loss to the New York Giants. They relied heavily on backup QB Brandon Allen to little affect.
The Bengals manage 96.3 rushing yard-per-game (29th, but the Dolphins allow 4.8 yards-per-carry, tied for second-most. If Miami can limit the Bengal ground game and make them one dimensional, they’ll be in good shape.
The Dolphins should be able to push their takeaway streak to 18 against Cincy. The Bengals’ 17 turnovers, including three last week, are ninth-most in the league this season.
The Bengals turned to Allen after Joe Burrow was lost for the season in Week 11. Allen’s offensive efforts resulted in just 155 total yards during the loss to the Giants. The offense managed just 10 points.
Allen completed 17 of 29 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice and lost a fumble in the process. The Bengals allow 3.5 sacks-per-game, second-most in the league.
The Dolphins defense, meanwhile, ranks 14th in the NFL, getting 2.3 sacks-per-game. And attacking stationary quarterbacks like Allen has been the team’s bread-and-butter on defense all season.
Consistent pressure on Allen should lead to the fourth year QB, who’s making just the fifth start of his career, to make multiple mistakes.
Dolphins Need to Limit Bengals’ WRs
The strength of Cincinnati’s offense remains their wide receiver corps. Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green and Tee Higgins have played well and managed to stress opposing defenses throughout 2020. Boyd leads Cincy with 72 receptions and 725 receiving yards.
Higgins is having a solid rookie campaign, with 48 catches, 673 yards and a team-leading five touchdown receptions. Green’s bounce back season has seen him make 35 catches (on 80 targets) with just one touchdown.
What helps here is it’s a strength-on-strength matchup. Miami’s secondary remains the top unit on the team. The Dolphins’ 11 interceptions are tied for fifth-most this season, and Xavien Howard’s seven lead the league. Miami comes in fourth in both passer-rating-allowed (84.3) and completion-percentage-allowed (62.3).
The Bengals offense ranks 26th in scoring (20.9 points-per-game), 24th in total offense (331.5 yards-per-game) and 18th in passing yards-per-game (235.2).
Find an Offensive Rhythm
Last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick started in place of the injury Tua Tagovailoa. While there’s been no word yet on who will start Week 13 for Miami, the offense needs to find a rhythm. Against the Jets, Fitzpatrick put up 257 passing yards and threw two touchdowns, but Miami managed just 20 points against the league’s worst defense.
Cincinnati’s D doesn’t scare anyone either. The Bengals allow 26.3 points-per-game (22nd) and 390.5 yards-per-game (26th). They’re 30th in sacks (13) and manage pressure on just 16.4 percent of pass plays.
The Bengals can be run on. They allow 136.7 rushing yards-per-game (30th) and 4.8 yards-per-carry. The return of Myles Gaskin could finally allow the offense to find some balance and rhythm. If Fitzpatrick starts, DeVante Parker may have another busy day. Last week, Fitzpatrick targeted Parker 14 times, resulting in eight catches and 119 yards.
If Tagovailoa gets the clearance to play, hopefully he can demonstrate similar chemistry with the receivers.
Dolphins-Bengals: Keep in Mind the Playoffs
The Dolphins vaulted back into the AFC playoff picture with their win last week. Miami enters Week 13 as the 6-seed and if things break right for the ‘Phins, they could get as high as fifth in the standings. At this point, Miami maintains a hold on their playoff destiny.
The Dolphins need this win, considering the coming slate of games. Miami hosts the Chiefs (10-1) next week, then the Patriots (5-6). After that, they close out the season with pivotal road matchups against the Raiders (6-5) and Bills (8-3).
Miami must enter that final stretch at 8-4. Anything less would jeopardize their playoff chances. The Dolphins are clearly the superior team this week and must dominate Cincinnati. They can’t afford mental mistakes and turnovers. A win this week, and wins against Las Vegas and New England, would all but guarantee a playoff berth.