Sunday, September 19, 2004
Dolphins-Bengals: The Edge
By Mark Curnutte
Enquirer staff writer
The retirement of Ricky Williams, the season-ending injury to wide receiver David Boston and an unsettled quarterback situation caused many Bengals fans to look at the Miami game and mark a "W" on their schedules.
Not so fast. The Bengals have a few problems of their own heading into the game tonight: The run defense wasted no time in landing at the bottom of league rankings. The offensive line is being held together by glue - not to mention a few dozen rolls of athletic tape, rubber bands and paper clips. The same goes for the safety positions.
If the Bengals can't stop Miami's run game, it could be a long night.
Last week against the Jets, the Bengals did what they said they wouldn't - immediately put all the pressure on Carson Palmer to win the game. He almost did, though, and the franchise appears to have at long last found its quarterback.
The Dolphins are where the Bengals used to be at quarterback. Fiedler or Feeley? A.J. Feeley gets the start, just his 14th after high school (he had eight at Oregon and five with the Philadelphia Eagles). Feeley has a stronger arm than Fielder, but he also makes mistakes - witness the bad pass he threw last week against Tennessee that former Bengals safety Lamont Thompson returned for a touchdown.
The Dolphins don't appear to have recovered from Williams' unexpected departure. Replacement back Travis Minor (ankle) is out. Next? Sammy Morris (ankle) is questionable. That leaves Lamar Gordon, acquired Sept. 9 in a trade from St. Louis. He had 32 yards rushing and another 30 receiving. It won't help that blocking fullback Rob Konrad (thigh) is out.
Bengals featured back Rudi Johnson seeks redemption after his fumble was returned for a touchdown at New York. He's a different runner at home, averaging 134.8 yards a game in the last five at Paul Brown with seven touchdowns.
Miami's wideouts and tight end Randy McMichael could cause problems for the Bengals secondary. McMichael caught eight passes against the Titans, seven from Feeley. Miami might not have to run if Bengals cornerbacks can't cover Chris Chambers and Marty Booker.
Chad Johnson is at the top of his game, and he and Palmer have developed a rhythm. Peter Warrick, questionable with shin and knee injuries, is the most important player in the offense. They'll need more than spot duty from him. Advantage Miami because its receivers will face a less effective pass defense.
Miami coach Dave Wannstedt wants to run but has only one returning starter.
Only Bengals right guard Bobbie Williams has avoided injury, and he has probably been the least productive of the linemen. Center Jerry Fontenot was an inspired acquisition and will provide solid play if Rich Braham can't go. Left tackle Levi Jones faces another challenge in Miami end Jason Taylor, who entered the season with 54.5 sacks, second best in the league through the past four seasons.
The Bengals' front four put no pressure on Chad Pennington and was part of a run defense embarrassed for 219 yards. Miami's line is not as strong since losing Adewale Ogunleye's 15 sacks in the trade for Booker. Plus, tackle Tim Bowens (back) is expected to miss the game, hurting the run defense. But it's still good with Taylor and tackle Larry Chester.
Junior Seau remains one of the league's most active outside linebackers. The line does a good job of keeping blockers off middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who had 19 tackles against the Titans.
The return of Brian Simmons at weak-side linebacker will help the Bengals, especially against the run. Middle linebacker Nate Webster whiffed on a handful of tackles last week at New York.
Miami cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, though he's questionable with a groin injury, are one of the league's top pairs. The Titans had just 61 passing yards, though they had just 14 attempts.
Deltha O'Neal is back at one corner for the Bengals, but strong safety Rogers Beckett is doubtful with a concussion, and free safety Kim Herring (ankle) won't play. Madieu Williams will start along with Kevin Kaesviharn at safety. There is the potential for trouble against Miami's receivers.
Darrin Simmons continues to prove that he's one of the best position coaches in the NFL. He has adjusted his coverage and kick return teams on the fly with ever-changing personnel and coached Kyle Larson into an NFL punter.
Wannstedt seems shell-shocked by all that has gone wrong. He's likely to force the run, though the pass should be available all night.
Marvin Lewis' indomitable personality - backed by a loud home crowd - should be the difference. This is a game a coach can win.
CURNUTTE'S PREDICTION: Bengals 20, Dolphins 17
Who will win today's game at Paul Brown Stadium?
Results from an online poll of readers on the outcome of today's game: