This was supposed to be an awesome game. The first QB drafted going up against the second. An extension of the exhilarating LSU/Alabama game from over a year ago. Joe versus Tua: Round 2. NFL fans had it circled since the schedule was released way back in the summer.
But instead, we may very well be treated instead to Brandon Allen versus Ryan Fitzpatrick today, as Burrow had surgery last week to restructure his knee and Tagovailoa is dealing with a thumb injury on his throwing hand.
What could have been.
We’ll also get to see the second installment of Zac Taylor versus Brian Flores; two men hired in 2019 that have experienced much different levels of success in their two seasons coaching.
Last year, this game took place in Week 16 and was essentially the Burrow Bowl, as Cincinnati’s loss secured the first overall pick. That Miami team was 3-11, and after beating the Bengals that December afternoon in a crazy game (if you remember, Andy Dalton worked some magic and closed a 16-point deficit in under 30 seconds to send the game to OT), Flores and company have gone 8-4, carrying that momentum over into 2020. Zac Taylor, on the other hand, whose team entered that Miami game last year with a 1-13 record, has gone 3-8-1 since.
It’s a tale of two coaches… Guess which side we’re on?
I’ve got plenty more on this matchup, but before we get too deep into it, let’s recap some news from the week.
Joe Burrow’s surgery was a success
Burrow underwent successful surgery on his knee Wednesday. Dr. Neal ElAttrache of Kerlan-Jobe in LA was the surgeon, and the team anticipates the star quarterback to make a full recovery.
"Joe Burrow underwent successful surgery yesterday. The procedure went as planned and he is expected to make a complete recovery. Joe will begin the recovery process and we look forward to his return."
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 3, 2020
ElAttrache also performed Tom Brady’s ACL/MCL surgery in 2008, and he turned out fine, right? After a long two weeks, we can finally look forward, Bengals fans.
Auden Tate placed on season-ending IR
Wide receiver Auden Tate was placed on the IR earlier this week due to a shoulder injury that’s going to require surgery and effectively end his season.
Bengals WR Auden Tate will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, as @TomPelissero first reported. The surgery will be performed by Dr. James Andrews, per source. Tate is expected to make a full recovery and be ready by next season. #Bengals
— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) December 2, 2020
Looks like Burrow won’t be the only one spending the offseason rehabbing. A tough break for the former 7th round pick who keeps finding ways to force his way onto the field in Cincinnati.
Geno Atkins named Week 12 NFLPA Community MVP
For the third straight year, Cincinnati’s All-Pro defensive lineman earned the NFLPA’s Community MVP honor for his annual “Atkins Week of Giving.”
Bengals DT Geno Atkins named Week 12 NFLPA Community MVP for providing $50,000 in gifts and meals and for more than 800 essential workers and underserved people in Cincinnati during his third annual “Atkins Week of Giving.” It’s the 3rd straight year Atkins has won Community MVP.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 4, 2020
Here’s some photos from this year’s event:
Our Week 12 #CommunityMVP is a familiar face: three-time winner @GenoSacks. The @Bengals defender provided $50,000 in meals & other surprises to 800+ essential workers & underserved citizens in Cincinnati during his 3rd annual “Atkins Week of Giving:” https://t.co/drH63b0Xz3. pic.twitter.com/Ib06JRhtGo
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) December 4, 2020
A truly admirable effort by one of the best ever to don Bengals stripes.
Alright, preview time!
Bengals/Dolphins talk coming just as soon as I touch my head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…
— Cincinnati ? (@CincyProblems) December 2, 2020
Four things to know
1. The Dolphins starting QB has yet to be announced. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa suffered a thumb injury several weeks ago that forced him to miss Week 12 and limited him in practice this week. That means Cincinnati could very likely face savvy veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who once upon a time started for the Bengals. While Tua has shown flashes during his four starts, it’s undeniable that the Miami offense is more explosive when Fitzpatrick’s under center. Where Tagovailoa may tuck the ball and scramble instead of trying to fit a pass into a tight window, Fitzpatrick rears back and hums it as if his receiver’s wide open. While that strategy’s led to eight interceptions, it’s produced an offense that’s capable of being dynamic. Tua may take better care of the ball, but Fitz is capable of putting more points on the board.
2. Darius Phillips is back for the Bengals. After suffering a leg injury back in November, Phillips will return to the lineup today. The Bengals have been absolutely shredded in the passing game this season, mostly due to their lack of depth at cornerback. Injuries have piled up at the position, to the point that Cincinnati only had three healthy CBs a few weeks ago in Pittsburgh. Phillips figures to immediately slot back into the boundary position opposite William Jackson III, and the defense will be in better shape because of it.
3. Miami is a 11.5 point favorite. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s the biggest favorite the Dolphins have been in a long time. That’s due in large part to our next point…
4. Miami’s defense is high powered. The Dolphins only allows 18.6 points per game, a mark that’s second-best in the NFL. It’s been a stellar transformation for what many considered to be a lackluster unit in 2019. Brian Flores and company spent big in free agency and it’s paid off in a big way. Guys like Kyle Van Noy, Byron Jones, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Shaq Lawson have added serious juice to this defense on all three levels, and they’ve been able to win some games on the wings of its performance.
I mean. check out these numbers:
The Dolphins defense has been on a HOT STREAK ?
Miami Defense – Last 7 Games
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) December 4, 2020
Three players to watch
1. Devante Parker, Dolphins WR
The former Louisville Cardinal broke out in a big way last season, earning himself a 4-year, $40 million contract extension. So far this year he’s lived up to the pay raise, but he’s been far more productive with Fitzpatrick under center, averaging a little over five receptions per game. When Tua’s been his QB, he’s averaged just under four. Parker ought to see plenty of action today, especially if Fitzpatrick gets the nod for the Dolphins.
2. Jonah Williams, Bengals LT
The Dolphins defensive line has been great this year thanks to pass rushers like Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson. Ogbah, one of the team’s many free agent additions, is having a career year. The former Cleveland Brown and Kansas City Chief is tied for fourth in the league with 8.0 sacks and leads Miami with nine tackles for loss. Lawson, the former Buffalo Bill, has chipped in with two sacks of his own.
Bengals LT Jonah Williams, who has developed nicely in his first year starting, will be going up against one of these guys today in what will be a matchup to watch. If Cincy is to compete today, they’ve got to keep Brandon Allen upright.
3. Xavien Howard, Dolphins CB
One of the brightest spots on Cincinnati’s offense this year has been the emergence of rookie WR Tee Higgins, who has the second-most receiving yards of all rookie wide receivers. However, today Higgins is in for a tough matchup today when he faces Dolphins CB Xavien Howard.
Howard leads the league with seven interceptions this season and is tied for second with 15 passes defended. He’s picked off a pass in each of the last three games, and will have a shot to make it four straight today against Brandon Allen.
Two names to know
1. Jakeem Grant, Dolphins WR
Miami has one of the best special teams units in the league, and Grant is a big reason why. The five-year veteran is known for his game-breaking speed and has returned five kicks for touchdowns in his career, including one already this season.
The Dolphins average nearly 14 yards per punt return, a mark that leads the league. That seems to be an important thing to note in a game that will presumably feature lots of Bengals punts. It’ll be interesting to see if Kevin Huber and the Bengals even give him a chance or just kick away from him every time.
2. Alex Erickson, Bengals WR
Erickson has been Cincinnati’s primary punt returner, but he may get more kickoff work as Brandon Wilson (who took one 103 yards to the house last week) has been limited with a hamstring injury this week.
Erickson has struggled at times this season, but had a clutch return last week that put the Bengals in great position to win the game. Field position will be of the utmost importance if Cincy is to pull off this upset, making Erickson someone who could have a big impact, should be see an increase in playing time.
One way the Bengals can win
It starts with Cincinnati winning the field position battle and constantly giving itself chances to score. It’s hard to see Brandon Allen leading the offense to multiple scoring drives, but if the defense and special teams units can give him positive situations, he’ll have a much better chance to.
Also, the Bengals can’t let Fitz burn them. He’s a certified gunslinger, but he can be loose with the ball. If Jessie Bates or William Jackson can step in front of a pass or two and keep Cincy in striking distance, anything is possible.
But man, saying that and believing it are two different things. Taylor’s still got time to show the team he’s the guy, but that window may be narrowly closing. And ownership has 22 reasons why.
Zac Taylor trying to survive without Joe Burrow.
But they're close. So close he can feel it. pic.twitter.com/B8RdAKdxPo
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) November 30, 2020
Bengals. Dolphins. 1 p.m. on CBS. See ya there.