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Thursday, October 31, 2013
Double Coverage: Bengals at Dolphins

By James Walker and Coley Harvey

Andy Dalton and Dannell Ellerbe
It will be up to Dannell Ellerbe and the Miami defense to slow down Andy Dalton and the Bengals.
Two teams streaking in opposite directions will meet on Halloween night when the Miami Dolphins host the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Dolphins (3-4) enter this game on a four-game losing streak, while the first-place Bengals (6-2), one of the NFL's hottest teams, are on a four-game winning streak.

Will the Bengals continue their winning ways? Can Miami save its season at home?

ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in:

James Walker: Coley, I expect an entertaining game between these two teams. Not only do they match up well, but the fact that one team is so hot (Bengals) and the other can’t buy a win (Dolphins) makes it intriguing. This is really a must-win game from Miami’s perspective. I think this team could be on the verge of losing its confidence if things don't change soon. The Dolphins haven’t won a game since Sept. 22, and each week it appears more challenging to get over the hump. The Dolphins gave the New England Patriots their best shot this past Sunday by taking a 17-3 lead at halftime. Then, New England scored 24 unanswered points to deflate the Dolphins. That’s a shot in the gut that could be tough to recover from on a short week. It also doesn’t help that Miami starting center Mike Pouncey is causing a legal distraction after his recent subpoena in relation to the Aaron Hernandez investigation.

I’m sure things are more rosy in Cincinnati, Coley. What’s the mood of the Bengals entering Thursday night’s game?

Coley Harvey: Those are some pretty rough odds the Dolphins are facing Thursday, James. Still stunned about that Pouncey subpoena. Crazy stuff. As far as the mood in Cincinnati is concerned, Bengals fans are on Clouds 9, 10, 11 ... do they make a Cloud 100? Seriously, the Queen City is all abuzz about the statement Andy Dalton and the comparatively obscure Marvin Jones -- compared to A.J. Green, at least -- made in Sunday's 49-9 pummeling of the New York Jets. Not only does it appear the quarterback has found a nice mechanical passing rhythm, but he’s been in better sync with his receivers the past four weeks than he has been all season. In the last three games alone, he’s passed for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s connected with a minimum of seven receivers in each of those games. Along with that offensive production, the defense has been pretty stout, as well. The Bengals haven’t allowed a touchdown in two of their last four games. Those performances happened to come against AFC East teams (the Patriots and Jets).

So yes, plenty of reasons for people in southwest Ohio to be excited. But what about in South Florida? How are things there? I can’t imagine the mood has been very peaceful since this collapse began. As a former Florida resident, I’ve got tons of Dolphins fans for friends. I’ve had to talk several off the ledge recently.

Walker: Many South Florida fans are glad it’s basketball season. The Dolphins have frustrated football fans for so long that they are used to quickly turning the page when the Miami Heat get their season started. The defending NBA champs are now the biggest source of pride in Miami when it comes to sports. It’s been a while since the Dolphins held that claim. The Dolphins are having trouble packing their stadium and will need to produce consecutive winning seasons for most fans to stay on board longer than a few games. It’s a harsh sports town in that respect.

Another topic I want to touch on is the quarterbacks. Dalton has caught fire recently. Is this sustainable for the rest of the year or just a short-term fluke?

Harvey: It’s hard to tell, James. I get asked this very question or some variation of it every week, and just when I think he’s hit his ceiling and played the best game he possibly could, Dalton comes out and rips off another impressive performance. I’m hesitant to say it’s a short-term fluke now; I’m starting to think he’s got something special going. What has led to such solid, consistent play of late from him? If you ask the Bengals, they’ll say it has to do with trust and confidence. Dalton feels much more at ease with knowing that any of his receivers, not just Green, will make big plays. Sunday’s franchise-record four-touchdown effort from Jones showed just that. If I had to guess, though, I’d say Dalton just finally got fed up with all the negative press he had been getting. After posting a 29.7 QBR in the Bengals’ 17-6 loss at Cleveland in Week 4, he took quite a beating. Since then, he’s been a completely different player.

What has been Ryan Tannehill’s issue of late? It’s kind of surprising to see that Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have only three touchdown receptions between them.

Walker: Just like Dalton in Cincinnati, Tannehill also is a hot topic weekly in Miami. I don’t doubt his natural ability. He has most of the things you look for in a quarterback: strong arm, good mobility, can throw on the run, steady demeanor. However, I’m starting to see some recurring weaknesses after 23 career starts that make me question Tannehill’s long-term prospects. Tannehill’s pocket presence is subpar. He doesn’t have a good feel or that sixth sense for the pass rush. That’s led to Tannehill holding the ball too long and often taking clean shots, which have resulted in a team-high five lost fumbles. If Tannehill can learn how to slide in the pocket and feel the rush better, that will increase his chances of taking the next step. But to some degree, it’s also hard to fully evaluate Tannehill when he’s been sacked 32 times and his rushing attack is ranked 23rd in the NFL. He isn’t getting consistent help from his supporting cast.

Finally, the Bengals are much less dominant on the road than they are at home. What’s been the difference and what has to go right Thursday night for Cincinnati to improve to 7-2, Coley?

Harvey: It is true that both of the Bengals’ losses this season came on the road, but they came before the massive Dalton turnaround and at least one of them should have been a win. Down 24-21 and out of timeouts with just more than a minute to go in their season opener at Chicago, the Bengals' defense had just made a crucial third-down stop when middle linebacker Rey Maualuga got tangled up with a Bears offensive lineman. The lineman kept blocking after the whistle, Maualuga didn’t like that and retaliated with a body slam. The refs saw the body slam and flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct. Had that play not occurred, the Bengals would have gotten the ball back and might have been able to stage the type of last-minute rally that led to their last road win.

The other loss came when they just didn’t show up at all at Cleveland in Week 4. While their recent road success -- games won in back-to-back weeks on field goals in overtime and as time expired in regulation -- is reason enough for Bengals fans to feel good about Thursday night’s game, some are worried they’ll see a flat Cincinnati team at Sun Life Stadium. The Bengals were beat up Sunday and are just hoping to survive this short week. Maualuga is one of four defensive starters who won’t be playing in this game.