What to watch for in Dolphins-Bengals on 'TNF'

Tonight's game airs exclusively on NFL Network at 8:25 p.m. ET.

Last year's Bengals didn't lose their second game of the season until late-November in a Sunday night tumble against the Arizona Cardinals.

This year's Bengals already find themselves in a 1-2 hole heading into Thursday night's clash with the Miami Dolphins (1-2).

So what's changed? For starters, Andy Dalton certainly misses two familiar targets in wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who left in the offseason for new NFL homes. The Bengals quarterback has also played the entire season without tight end/red-zone monster Tyler Eifert, who continues to make his way back from springtime ankle surgery and is listed as doubtful for TNF.

On the ground, the Bengals have struggled to pound the rock as they did last season, rushing for just 3.7 yards per carry over 180 minutes of play.

Before fans panic, though, it's fair to point to a schedule that forced Dalton and friends to battle three tough opponents in the Jets, Steelers and world-champion Broncos.

Will a home date against the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football put the Bengals back on track? Here's what we'll be watching for in a game airing exclusively on NFL Network:

  1. The Dolphins are an incomplete team, but Dalton won't have it easy against a formidable Miami defensive front led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. The monstrous Suh is off to a strong start with 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss, while Wake dominated the Browns with a strip-sack of rookie signal-caller Cody Kessler -- along with a second strip-sack that was called back by penalty. The Bengals, meanwhile, have allowed a league-leading 12 takedowns over three games. Still, Miami's pass-rush hasn't helped stop the run, as the Dolphins rank second-to-last in the NFL while giving up a whopping 147.3 yards per game. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is a highly respected coach who served in Cincinnati and knows the Bengals want to establish the ground game right away.
  1. That brings us to Jeremy Hill, who operates as Cincy's unquestioned workhorse on the ground. His 37 carries are more than twice the totes of Giovani Bernard, who continues to play a bigger role through the air. Hill, though, is averaging just 50 yards per game at 4.1 yards per carry, numbers helped by his 50-yard blast against the Broncos in Week 3. After giving up 161 rushing yards to the Patriots and 169 more to the Browns, the Dolphins are an inviting opponent for Hill, who boasts a league-leading 23 rushing scores since 2014. As for Bernard, his 20 targets through the air rank second on the team, so expect a large role in space against Kiko Alonso and the 'Fins.
  1. Miami has been an up-and-down operation on offense. The Dolphins fell into a 28-point hole against New England before catching fire through the air to lose 31-24 in a tilt that saw Miami's Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills pile up a combined 280 yards off 22 catches against the Patriots. The trio was at it again vs. Cleveland, overcoming Ryan Tannehill's two first-half interceptions to lash the Browns for a combined 247 yards and two scores off 15 grabs. Miami goes out of its way to create touches for Landry, and he's responded with back-to-back 100-yard outings. Parker has grown into a genuine threat with 24 catches for 443 yards and two touchdowns over his past five games, while Stills would have been a hero in Week 1 had he not dropped a would-be touchdown bomb in a tight 12-10 loss to the Seahawks. The question on Thursday is whether Tannehill, for the first time all year, can have this offense humming for an entire 60 minutes. It's no help that veteran left tackle Branden Albert (ankle) looms as a game-time decision.
  1. Miami's ground game is sort of a mess. With Arian Foster (groin) not expected to play, look for the Dolphins to lean again on an uber-committee approach led by rookie Kenyan Drake. Behind him, Isaiah Pead, Damien Williams and the enigmatic Jay Ajayi should all see work against Geno Atkins and the Cincy front seven. The Bengals rank in the bottom half of the league against the run, but notably held Denver's C.J. Anderson to just 37 yards off 14 carries on Sunday. Help also arrives in the form of Vontaze Burfict, back from his three-game suspension. The hard-hitting linebacker was pivotal to stopping the run last season for a Bengals club that historically allows 15 fewer rushing yards per game with Burfict in the lineup.
  1. The Bengals really miss Eifert. In his absence, play-caller Ken Zampese has unleashed second-year tight end C.J. Uzomah, who ranks third on the team with 17 targets and showed juicy catch-and-run ability with a huge 54-yard scamper through New York's defense in Week 1. Uzomah has grown as a blocker, too, helping to spring Hill on Sunday for that 50-yard dart against Denver. With Eifert likely out, we'll be watching to see how Miami defends against Uzomah, Bernard and Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green. After the versatile Terrelle Pryor ripped through the Dolphins for 200 combined yards in Week 3, it's fair to wonder if Green could be set up for a big night against a Dolphins secondary allowing a 94.8 rating to opposing quarterbacks.
  1. My biggest issue with Miami? The Dolphins have allowed opponents to dictate games. The defense played well in the opener, but Miami was outplayed Sunday by a left-for-dead Browns squad that pummeled the 'Fins for 430 total yards of offense. Adam Gase is a talented play-caller and Dolphins players have raved about their first-year coach. He isn't happy with the overall effort, though, telling reporters this week: "I'm over discussing any of this stuff with players. We're either going to start getting the job done, or we're going to make changes."
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