Thursday Night Football Preview: The Hunt for 2-2
Early-season overreactions are really all we have through three weeks of NFL action each and every year.
Sure, the 0-3 teams have something to worry about, but at 1-2, squads can get to .500 if they can right the ship in game four. That's what we get tonight, when the 1-2 Miami Dolphins travel to face the 1-2 Cincinnati Bengals.
Which team has the best shot to get to .500 and head into a long weekend?
While it might be easy to gift a clear edge offensively to the Bengals, our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric ranks the Miami offense 20th through three weeks and Cincinnati just 15th. Yes, that's a gap, but it's nothing that can't be overcome in a one-game sample.
Of course, much of that has to do with quarterback play.
Ryan Tannehill owns a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.03 through three weeks, ranking him 27th among 37 passers with at least 20 drop backs. Andy Dalton's 0.09 ranks 21st. The bigger gap comes in terms of Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that lead to expected point gains. Dalton's 48.82% ranks 16th in this group, and Tannehill's 44.92% ranks 26th.
Theoretically, Dalton, who led the league in Passing NEP per drop back last season, should move the sticks better than Tannehill -- which should be no surprise at all.
Running Back Committees
The timeshare between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard is one of the most obvious running back timeshares in football and has been for a few years now, but the Dolphins took the platoon approach to the extreme in Week 3 with Arian Foster injured.
In Week 3, Kenyan Drake played 40% of Miami's offensive snaps, Jay Ajayi got 27%, Isaiah Pead played 18%, and Damien Williams drew 16%. Their usage rates, though, were 23% for Drake, 30% for Ajayi, 39% for Pead, and 12% for Williams.
Good luck figuring that one out.
Meanwhile, Bernard has played 49%, 62%, and 52% of snaps -- compared to 51%, 38%, and 48% for Hill. Both situations are a bit messy, but with Foster out again, expect more of the same for Miami.
Though the two rank fairly similarly in rushing efficiency (Miami is 21st and Cincinnati is 17th), the Bengals' 0.01 Rushing NEP per play is much nicer than Miami's -0.04. That's to be expected, but Cincinnati's offense certainly gives them an edge overall. The same can't really be said for the defense.
Believe it or not, the Dolphins have graded out better defensively than the Bengals have through three weeks and rank 16th while Cincinnati ranks 19th, per our metrics.
Miami's individual marks aren't quite as nice -- 17th against the pass and 19th against the rush compared to 19th and 11th, respectively, for Cincinnati -- but defending the pass is simply more important in terms of denying scoring chances for opponents in the current NFL.
Miami has faced 102 rushing plays so far, making them one of just two teams to defend the rush at least 92 times through three weeks and have seen 250 plays in total, most in the NFL. Their per-play marks are pretty solid given the elevated volume that they have faced.
The question really comes down to whether or not they can get to Dalton. Miami ranks 11th in sack rate through three weeks, and Cincinnati is 31st in sack rate against. This defense could sneakily cause issues for the Cincinnati offense, but does that give them value tonight as 7.5-point underdogs?
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