Dolphins 22, Bengals 20
Strategy: The Bengals want to be balanced offensively. They run a single-back offense and often use two tight ends to create mismatches. They use 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert all over the formation while Jermaine Gresham is usually a traditional in-line tight end. They have a rhythm passing game with quarterback Andy Dalton taking shorter drops to get the ball out quickly. The Bengals run a 4-3 base defense and keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes with a variety of looks, blitzing on one play and dropping seven men into zone coverage on the next.
Personnel: The Bengals boast a deep, talented defensive line, though they lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who had a sack against the Dolphins, to a torn ACL in the second quarter. He will be tough to replace -- the Bengals are also without top cornerback Leon Hall and linebacker Rey Maualuga -- but they have a pair of bookend pass rushers in Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Offensively, they have used recent draft picks to stockpile talent at the skill positions. A.J. Green is one of the NFL’s best wide receivers. They also have Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu at the position. They have two pass-catching tight ends and a nice one-two punch in the backfield in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard.
What went right: The Bengals were efficient offensively, converting 10 of their 20 third-down plays and piling up 465 yards of offense. Bernard, who can catch and make defenders whiff in the open field, had a monster game with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 13 touches. His meandering touchdown run that tied the game in the fourth quarter is one of the season’s most spectacular plays. The defense limited the damage done by the Dolphins in their West Coast passing attack and made adjustments to slow down their running game after halftime. The Bengals hogged the ball for most of the second half while erasing a 14-point deficit.
What went wrong: The Dolphins ran all over the Bengals early, with Lamar Miller consistently finding seams on stretch plays and Daniel Thomas pounding them on inside runs. The Dolphins had 142 rushing yards in the first half, forcing the Bengals to move a safety into the box to stop the bleeding. Dalton, who threw for 338 yards, lost a fumble and threw three interceptions. One ill-advised pick in the first half led to a Dolphins field goal and an inaccurate pass behind one of his receivers in the third quarter was intercepted by cornerback Brent Grimes and returned 94 yards for a touchdown. And an unnecessary holding penalty in the open field took a touchdown for Jones off the board. The Bengals were the better team, but a few mistakes really cost them.
Turning point: The Bengals scored 17 straight points to take a 20-17 lead with 1:24 left in regulation. But they allowed the Dolphins, who had just one timeout, to go 50 yards on nine plays to send the game into overtime, where they lost on a walk-off safety. A 21-yard catch on the sideline by Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline was the key play on that game-tying drive.
X-factor: The Dolphins had no answer for Green, who tall and fast with rare agility for a man his size. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, whether it’s on a deep ball or a quick screen. The Dolphins kept him out of the end zone, but he had 11 catches for 128 yards on 19 targets. Dalton and Green connected for six conversions on third-down plays. The Ravens secondary will have their hands full Sunday.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun