After last Sunday's heart-breaking "loss" the Dolphins will head to Cincinnati to take on a reeling Bengals team in a very important game. The good news for Miami, of course, has been their outstanding play on the road. The bad news? The Bengals are in a similar "must win" situation. At 2-4, the Bengals are desperate to chalk up one in the win column.
This is a game that features two teams whose records are deceiving. Both are better than their combined 5-7 record shows. So with that said, let's focus in on three critical matchups.
Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco vs Vontae Davis/Jason Allen/Sean Smith
This is definitely the marquee of the game. While Cincinnati's offense hasn't been as explosive as many thought it might be this year after acquiring Terrell Owens, these two receivers are still both ranked in the top ten in the AFC in receptions. Owens is also third in the AFC in receiving yards while Ochocinco is thirteenth.
Last year as a member of the Bills, Owens had a big game against Vontae Davis and the Dolphins - catching 5 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in their second meeting of 2009. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer has been throwing to Owens more than Ochocinco. Owens has seen over 12 targets per game while "Ocho" has seen 10. That's a whopping 22 passes per game going int the direction of these two play-makers.
It'll be interesting to see how the Dolphins decide to match up against these two receivers. Vontae will obviously take on one of these two. But who will get the other tough assignment?
Last week we saw Sean Smith getting more playing time than he has all year as a boundary corner after Jason Allen got beat by Mike Wallace for a long touchdown. Has the long-term switch finally been made?
Whoever wins the assignment is going to have to bring his "A" game, that's for sure. Miami's secondary has been leaky this year and the Bengals will look to exploit this.
Dolphins offensive line vs Bengals defensive line
As outstanding as Miami's offensive line has been protecting Chad Henne this year, they have really struggled getting a consistent push when Dan Henning dials up Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Dolphins are only 16th in the league in rushing - a disappointing stat for a team that wants to be a power running team.
The Bengals might be exactly what the doctored ordered, though. Cincy's defensive line has been a big problem this year. The team only has six sacks on the season - also known as the number of sacks Cameron Wake has by himself. [Edit: Wake was awarded half a sack from Sunday's game. So he now has more sacks than the entire Bengals team this year.] Worse yet, the Bengals are surrendering 118 yards per game on the ground - the 11th worst total in the league.
Chad Henne's going to have time to throw the football this week - that's a fact. But if the Dolphins are going to try to get back to their identity - or rather, what they want their identity to be - then this offensive line has to push around Cincy's front four.
Dan Henning vs himself
So maybe I am being lazy here by listing this one. But after last week's rather disappointing play-calling, there's going to be more focus than ever on Henning's decisions this week. The Dolphins have to get Brandon Marshall more involved and have to perform better in the red zone. There's no question that red zone execution last week was obviously an issue. But Henning's decision to run the football three consecutive times after Pittsburgh's second turnover of the game was just terrible.
This Bengals defense has been far from the unit that took the field last year. Henning should attack this defense. If he continues his conservative ways, Dolphin fans are going to continue calling for his head. And I won't blame them one bit. After all, it's getting very hard to defend Henning as the weeks go by and nothing changes.