Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Miami Dolphins (1-14)
Bengals Offense vs Dolphins Defense
Football is a funny thing. Take the Bengals, for example. Many people thought this would be the season that the Bengals won the division and made a strong playoff push. And why not? On paper, this offense should be a top NFL offense. Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, and Rudi Johnson. That's quite an offense...on paper. But Palmer, despite completing 65% of his passes and throwing for over 3,800 yards, has shown that he still has some improvement to do before becoming the elite QB most thought he would become prior to his knee injury. His decision making has come under fire this year after throwing 19 interceptions already. Rudi Johnson, who had been one of the most consistent RBs in the NFL the past 3 seasons (rushing for over 1,300 yards with 12 touchdowns in each of those 3 seasons), has clearly lost a step. He has run for just 497 yards and averages just 2.9 ypc when he's healthy enough to be on the field. And now his future in Cincinnati is very much in question.
However, despite these troubles, Cincy's offense is ranked 10th in the NFL and averages nearly 23 points per game. Kenny Watson has been the guy who has stepped in for Rudi and has played quite well. Watson averages 4.4 yards per carry while also catching 51 passes, good for 3rd on the team. On Sunday, I think this depleted Dolphins defense needs to step up against Watson and the run. We saw last week that Laurence Maroney slice through this Miami defense, gaining 156 yards on just 14 carries. And in their last 5 games, the Dolphins have surrendered an average of 166 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Watson ran for a career high 131 yards. If this Dolphins defense is unable to contain Cincy's ground game, then there really isn't much of a shot that the Dolphins can slow this Bengals offense.
Despite their 6-9 record, the Bengals passing attack is as potent as ever. And a lot of that has to do with their top receiving duo. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have combined for 192 catches and 2,362 yards with 18 touchdowns. To put that into perspective, these 2 WRs account for 62% of Cincinnati's receiving yards and 78% of their receiving touchdowns. They are a dangerous duo and the Dolphins need to try and figure out how to slow them. Simply putting Will Allen on Johnson and Michael Lehan on Houshmandzadeh with safety help over the top will not be a logical way to slow these two down. My proposal? You need to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Palmer. This offensive line has allowed just 17 sacks this year (2nd best in NFL). And last week, the Browns weren't able to get to Palmer at all for a sack. However, what they were able to do was to apply a good amount of pressure to Palmer. And Carson didn't seem very comfortable in the pocket when he had defenders in his face and around his feet. That's a major reason they were able to hold Carson to just 11/21 passing for 115 yards and to force 2 interceptions.
So for this Dolphins defense, the gameplan is simple and is really the most common gameplan in the NFL. Stop the run and get pressure on the QB.
Dolphins Offense vs Bengals Defense
Many of us thought that this would be a great spot to get John Beck one last start before the offseason. And that was mainly because the Bengals have the 27th ranked defense in the NFL and allow 229 yards per game through the air. But instead, it'll be Cleo Lemon getting one more shot to improve his offseason free agency value. So all I'll say about Lemon is that if he doesn't play well on Sunday against this poor Bengals secondary and against a front 4 that doesn't get much pressure on the QB (30th in NFL in sacks), then there is absolutely no reason to even consider keeping Cleo around in 2008. But with that said, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Cleo complete 70% of his passes for 250+ yards and 2 or 3 touchdowns. Why? Because that kind of game would allow the pro-Lemon fans to come out of the woodwork and begin making cases for keeping Lemon in 2008, which is exactly what I, and most other Dolphin fans, do not want.
With that said, I am still excited for one thing. I feel the potential is there for Ted Ginn to have his best game of the season on Sunday. Last week, we saw Lemon complete 4 2nd half passes to Teddy and saw him targeted a few other times. I got a feeling Cam might be "advised" by his new boss to get Ginn more involved in the offense on Sunday. Or maybe I'm just looking through my "Ginn-colored" glasses. Either way, I think Ginn will have ample opportunities to make some plays against Cincinnati's questionable secondary.
With all that said about the passing game, Miami's success will likely hinge on how effective their ground game is. And despite the fact that Jesse Chatman is healthy and will likely see the bulk of the carries, I'll be much more interested in seeing how Lorenzo Booker performs. He had a season high 56 yards rushing last week and seems to have the makings of a very good "scat back." He really showed how quick and elusive he is with the ball in his hands last week. And it'll be up to Chatman and Booker to keep Cincinnati's offense off the field. If these 2 are ineffective on the ground and force Cleo to throw 30-40 times, then this could be a long final Sunday of the regular season for us Dolphin fans. But I think these 2 will step up. Both are looking to solidify their roster spots for 2008 and both know that their new boss will be watching. Ditto for the offensive line.
Call me crazy, but I think the Dolphins might actually be able to put some points up on Sunday. They've only topped 20 points one time in their last 8 games (and that one game was their lone victory). I don't know if they will win on Sunday, but I do think 20+ points is quite reachable.