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The Dolphins are a team in need. They need to win a game for the first time in more than a month. They need to beat a quality team. They need to break a two-game home losing streak. They need to regain some confidence, some swagger. They need to make a statement heading into the second half of the season.
Boy, do they need this one!
That about sums up the importance of tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. When you lose four in a row after a 3-0 start, when you come off gut-wrenching defeats to divisional opponents Buffalo and New England, when the sacks and the turnovers keep multiplying, when there are more questions than answers, there is no better solution than a quality win.
That’s what tonight is all about for the Dolphins. Feel good again. Wipe away that losing stench. Show signs of progress. Create something to build upon. It’s an imposing challenge, playing the Cincinnati Bengals who you can argue are playing about as well as any team in the league, fresh off a 49-9 pasting of the Jets. The Bengals are loaded. They have strong January visions.
The Dolphins, plain and simple, can not beat this team with merely a good half or a decent three quarters. They can’t start slow like they did against Buffalo or finish terribly like they did at New England. They need a complete game or as close to it as possible. They need to play like they did at Indy and finish like they did at home against Atlanta. This is a Cincinnati team that will expose every weakness you have. Just ask the Jets about that.
Playing on Thursday night offers a set of unique challenges after only three days rest. Bodies are sore. Minds are tired. Emotions are drained. But there can be no excuses because both teams are playing under the same circumstances. The difference between 3-5 and 4-4? Doesn’t sound like a lot, but for these Dolphins it means everything.
“We’re in a tough spot,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “Big game at home. Short week. We need to play well. We need to correct the mistakes we’ve been making. Yeah, it’s a big game.”
The way I see it, there are five “MUSTS” in tonight’s game.
• The Dolphins MUST stop the avalanche of sacks. The Bengals saw the tapes. They will come after Tannehill hard. The Dolphins have to adjust, have to start doing things differently. More rollouts? More three step drops? Better blitz pick-ups? Thirty-two sacks in seven games? It absolutely, positively cannot go on this way.
• The Dolphins MUST win the turnover battle. This was the emphasis heading into training camp and things looked promising during the first few weeks of the season. But now the Dolphins are in the minus territory on turnover/takeaway ratio and this can’t continue. Tannehill must protect the ball. These sack/fumbles are getting old in a hurry.
• The Dolphins MUST get a step-up performance from Cameron Wake. It is no coincidence that the pass rush has suffered since Wake went down with a sprained knee. Wake’s plays have been limited over the past three games. Now, there are indications that he is close to 100 percent again. The Dolphins desperately need the best of Cameron Wake. They need his sacks, his big plays, his tenacity. When healthy, he is the best player on this defense. But we haven’t seen it during this four-game skid. That needs to change.
• The Dolphins MUST continue to run the ball effectively. This can serve as the primary deterrent to an all-out pass rush. We’re not asking for the ’72 Dolphins here. I’d say the goal should be to rush for at least 100 yards in this game. That should be enough to keep the Bengals guessing.
• Finally, the Dolphins MUST get big, game-defining plays out of Mike Wallace. This is long overdue. Wallace is too good and has too much of an upside to just be another player in this offense. He needs to be THE player. The loss of Brandon Gibson to a season-ending knee injury is a huge blow for many reasons. But it only underlines the importance of Wallace touching the ball at least a dozen times tonight. The Dolphins desperately need a few easy touchdowns and Wallace is the player to get it done.
On Friday, AC in the AM breaks down the game against the Bengals.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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