By Jeremiah Thermidor
After four weeks of NFL action, one thing is for sure. The Dolphins are much better than their 1-3 record indicates. Miami has exceeded expectations, despite starting a rookie quarterback and adjusting to a new defense. However, being unable to get on the winning end of tight games–like the close losses suffered against the Jets and Cardinals–has to be frustrating and will only serve to build a mental barrier they don’t need heading into their bye in Week 7.
So, the Dolphins need to get a solid win in order to get over their recent slump, and a victory over the Bengals on Sunday would do just that. The Dolphins made some moves this week showing they’re willing to do what it takes to make a strong run to claim the AFC East crown. The team terminated the contract of wide receiver Legedu Naanee and signed free agent Jabar Gaffney.
Gaffney, who spent the 2011 season with the Redskins, will certainly help open up the passing game, giving Ryan Tannehill a respectable group of route runners he can depend on. “I think he’s gotten off to a good start,” Tannehill said when asked how quickly he can get on the same page with Gaffney. “He’s had a few chances at hand signals, just quick things and he’s picked up on them.”
One receiver Tannehill won’t have to worry about not picking up on anything is Brian Hartline who put on a show last weekend, catching 12 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. Hartline, who hasn’t gotten much respect for his abilities up until last Sunday, appears to have taken his game to the next level. He currently leads the league in receiving yards this season (455), ahead of star wide outs such as Calvin Johnson, Roddy White and Victor Cruz.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Hartline said Wednesday referring to all the attention he’s getting after his electrifying performance. “I’m just not letting it get to me because we’re a 1-3 football team and that’s really hitting a soft spot right now.” A lot of eyes will be on Hartline this weekend, seeing if he can continue to perform like one of the NFL’s best, which he certainly is at the moment.
Miami’s backfield could put up some big numbers this weekend, considering Cincinnati’s rushing defense is 25th in the league, allowing 134.8 yards per game. However, last weekend the Bengals had their best day stopping the run, limiting Jacksonville star tailback Maurice Jones-Drew to a season-low 38 yards on 13 carries. So, the Dolphins will need their best rusher Reggie Bush to be healthy and the younger backs to continue to perform well, as they’ve consistently done this season.
Miami hopes Bush will be able to contribute more, versus last weekend when he returned to action against Arizona while recovering from a knee injury he suffered against the Jets. “During the game I was hurting,” Bush said concerning how he felt playing on that knee. “I tried to fight through it and did the best I could.” Bush had 69 yards in the contest, averaging a season-low 3.9 yards per carry. “I’m not going to make any excuses,” Bush said. “I didn’t play well at all. I’ve got to play better.”
Bush is currently dealing with a hip injury, which doesn’t seem to be a major concern heading into Miami’s Week 5 matchup, considering he participated in the entire practice session on Thursday.
Miami’s defense will have its hands full with the quarterback-receiving combo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Dalton is currently ranked as the fifth best quarterback in the league with a passer rating of 103.0 while Green is the second best receiver having caught 27 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns on the year.
Miami cornerback Sean Smith, who raked in two interceptions last Sunday, will take on the duty of trying to make life miserable for Green during the game. Smith has been trying to prove he can be one of the elite corners in the league by shadowing top receivers such as Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald. Smith will look to shut Green down, but it won’t be easy.
Miami’s best bet in hindering Cincinnati’s offense is to put constant pressure on Dalton much like it did against Arizona QB Kevin Kolb last Sunday. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake had a season-high 4.5 sacks, putting forth one of the best games in his career.
The Dolphins have also done an excellent job stopping the run. They boast the best rushing defense in the league, limiting opponents to an average of 56.8 yards – meaning Cincinnati tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be running into a load of trouble this weekend.
The Miami Dolphins (1-3) visit the Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) on Sunday at 1 p.m. eastern.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.