Dolphins need to protect QB versus Bengals
CINCINNATI (AP) — Ryan Tannehill showed the Miami Dolphins what he could do when he gets some time, putting up a record number in their latest overtime loss.
The question this week: Can they keep him on his feet long enough to do it again?
The Dolphins (1-3) bring a streak of back-to-back overtime losses to Cincinnati, where their rookie quarterback is going to face a defense that’s so far the best at bringing them down. The Bengals (3-1) lead the NFL with 17 sacks, including six sacks in each of their last two games.
They’ve faced rookie or second-year quarterbacks in each of their last three games, and won all three. That combination of inexperience at quarterback and a relentless pass rush has worked in Cincinnati’s favor.
“In the quarterback’s mind, his clock is sped up and he really has to get rid of the ball, he can’t hold onto it,” safety Chris Crocker said. “Our defensive linemen are very tall guys. Just them getting their arms up, getting around him — it’s uncomfortable. As long as they continue to get the pressure like they’re getting, then we’ll make a lot of plays.”
In Miami, it’s all about getting Tannehill ready to face the heat.
The eighth overall pick in the draft had a sensational day during a 24-21 overtime loss at Arizona, completing 26 of 41 for 431 yards — the most yards ever by a rookie quarterback on the road and the second-most overall. He had two bad moments that turned the game, both when the Cardinals got pressure on him.
With his team up 21-14, Tannehill fumbled at midfield after a hard hit. In overtime, he was hit as he released a pass, resulting in an interception that set up the winning field goal.
Overall, the Dolphins were pleased.
“We always practice pressure and blitz, but I just saw Ryan this week mature in how he handled it,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “He stepped up in the pocket making throws, and I thought this past week of practice was his best week of practice. He just seemed more confident and sure of himself. He’s always been confident, but even more so.
“Turnovers — you can’t always blame the quarterback for everything that happens that way, but I thought he played a very good game.”
The Bengals have been able to pressure young quarterbacks with their four linemen, who have 12 of the 17 sacks. That’s allowed them to cover up problems in the secondary — starting cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements sat out a 27-10 win at Jacksonville, their best defensive performance so far.
“Big-time,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “I feel we’ve improved since week one.”
The defense got shredded in an opening 44-13 loss at Baltimore and has been trying to get its act together a little more each week. Dunlap’s return from a knee injury the third game of the season seems to have steadied the unit and helped the Bengals pull off a three-game winning streak that’s not getting a lot of notice.
“When you don’t perform well on a national stage — on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens — I think that lingers on,” Crocker said. “When you look at anyone’s record, you say, ‘Who have they played? Who have they beat?’ You have to beat those top-tier teams to get that respect.
“So I can understand a little why people are saying, ‘Hey, they’re not as good as they think they are.’ But it really doesn’t matter. As long as you pile up the wins and you look in December and you’re in the top tier of playoff teams, that’s all that matters.”
Their offense has been playoff-caliber with second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green developing into even more of a big-play threat. Green had more than 100 yards receiving in each of the last two games and leads the AFC in catches. He’s second to Miami’s Brian Hartline in yards.
Dalton is fifth in the NFL with a 103 passer rating. In the fourth quarter, he leads all passers with a 151.7 rating.
“Yeah, we’ve played well, but we haven’t played good enough yet,” Dalton said. “We’ve won these games, but we still haven’t played our best yet.”
The running game has been inconsistent — BenJarvus Green-Ellis has fumbled in each of the last two games after not losing the ball in four seasons with New England. And the Bengals have struggled on third down, relying on big plays instead of long drives.
They face a familiar defense this week. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was a defensive assistant in Cincinnati from 2001-11 and uses many of the same concepts that Bengals coordinator Mike Zimmer favors.
As he watched video of Miami’s defense, Dalton felt he’d faced it already.
“Reminds me of (offseason workouts) and minicamp and training camp,” Dalton said. “There’s a lot of similar stuff to what we do here with coach Coyle being here for a while.”
Dalton knows it. The challenge now is to beat it.
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP—NFL