If we broke down all the games in podcast form instead of written form (which is sometimes something I wish would make more sense on your end, as typing the Edge and collecting the stats takes about 12 to 15 hours out of the week; though of course, a podcast format would demand a lot more of your time (probably about 5 hours of listening), and would make it impossible for you to really track your thoughts the way you should be able to track them for something as mammoth as “digesting an entire slate of NFL games”), one of the things I would do with my freed-up time and mental energy is dive a lot more deeply into all-22 study. It takes at least four or five hours per game to really get the most out of all-22 study, however, so I end up saving a lot of that specific style of study for the offseason. I mention all that because it’s tougher to say exactly what opponents are seeing here, but teams are just absolutely refusing to lean pass-heavy against the Bengals this season — with even the Patriots dropping under 50% in this matchup last week. On the season, the Bengals are the only team that has been attacked more often on the ground than through the air (nearly turning their average opponent into the Ravens, in terms of rushing frequency); and while we’re 15 weeks into the season and you can still find blurbs each week from national outlets calling the Bengals a smash spot for opposing passing attacks, this team has allowed the 11th fewest passing yards and the seventh fewest passing touchdowns, while leaving wide receivers with the second fewest catches in the league. Only four wide receivers have topped even 86 yards in this matchup this year.
All of which makes this is an interesting setup for Miami, as this team can’t run the ball (32nd in DVOA; 31st in yards per carry), and they rank second in the league (behind only the Falcons) in pass play rate. The Dolphins’ offense is further built around an aggressive downfield mindset, while the Bengals shave an impressive 8.4% off the league-average aDOT (while also holding opponents to a below-average catch rate — with YAC representing the biggest area where the Bengals have struggled, allowing a 29.9% boost in this area).
When the Dolphins run, they’ll lean primarily on Patrick Laird, who has recent touch counts of 14 // 19 // 14, and who has quietly faced three tough run game matchups in these spots: the Eagles, the Jets, and the Giants. I was surprised last week when Laird was one of the higher-owned players on the slate (as a not-exactly-salary-saver on an offense that can’t run, vs a decent Giants run defense), but he actually lines up better this week, as the Bengals rank 27th in DVOA against the run and have allowed the fourth most rushing yards to the position (at 4.81 yards per carry). The Bengals’ zone has also pushed action toward running backs through the air, where Laird has target counts of 5 // 5 // 5. As we know, touchdowns are tougher to come by against the Bengals (third in opponent red zone touchdown rate), and the Dolphins still can’t run block (32nd in adjusted line yards), but the workload should be fairly locked-in, and there is some risk/reward to consider here with ownership likely dropping as the spot improves.
When the Dolphins do take to the air, they have been breaking down targets in recent weeks as follows:
Parker is less likely to see double-digits in this spot as the Dolphins’ passing volume should trickle down at least a little, but his targets should remain locked in, and his downfield role and red zone role keep him in the mix. Behind Parker, it’s possible for a broken play or a touchdown to provide value on Hurns or Gesicki, but given that the Bengals have primarily struggled through big plays after the catch, Wilson stands out the most here. If you took every qualifying wide receiver in the NFL and put them in a line according to aDOT, Wilson would be the last guy walking into the room — giving him a fairly modest floor if one of these big plays doesn’t materialize; but the potential is real enough here for Wilson to be kept in the mix.
On the other side of this game (as we know by now), there are no bad matchups, only the potential for bad volume — and even since Andy Dalton has returned to the field, volume on the Bengals has continued to flow through Mixon, who has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 (after not having topped 20 touches a single time in his first seven games). Dalton has thrown the ball 37, 38, and 31 times since returning, with Cincy throwing the ball on only 55.6% of their pass plays (compared to their season-long average — third-highest in the NFL — of 64.2%). With the Bengals focused heavily on the run lately and the Dolphins facing the second highest rush play rate in the league, touches should be locked in for Mixon, who is a solid bet to be the piece that drives this game forward. Production isn’t guaranteed behind a line ranked 26th in adjusted line yards, and Mixon is likely to be popular this week; but this line has looked better (as explored multiple times over the last month-plus) since shifting up some of their blocking schemes, and the Dolphins rank 32nd in adjusted line yards on defense. Mixon is firmly in the mix.
It’s tougher to get a feel for the Bengals’ passing attack, as this is the softest matchup Cincy could hope for (with the Dolphins’ weak pass rush especially boosting per-pass expectations for Dalton), but volume is a relative question mark, and effectiveness can always be considered a question when looking at this group. This is a risk/reward unit this week. The best bets for the reward to be worth the risk are John Ross on explosion and Tyler Boyd on volume.
Boyd has recent target counts of 10 // 6 // 7, and if you take away the game against New England, he has recent production of 5-59-0 // 5-79-0. Five catches for 50 yards should be a reasonable “bad game” projection for Boyd here (i.e., he could dip below that, but his 80% range would keep him at least at this level), and he could very reasonably grab a couple big gains or a touchdown to become an Upside piece. Ross is less projectable, and he has only three targets in each of his last two games; but he was working in the six to eight target range earlier in the year and has obvious big-play upside. Behind these two, you’re hoping for broken plays, spiked volume, or multiple touchdowns from Alex Erickson or the tight ends. This offense is essentially Mixon/Boyd at the moment.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Mixon carries at least some level of risk, but especially on DraftKings (where his price does not match his role), he’ll be looking to force his way into the Tier 1 discussion. The likeliest scenario this week probably doesn’t quite have Mixon on a true ceiling game in this inconsistent offense; but his chances of whiffing are low (he has 17+ DK/FDraft points in six of his last seven games; 15+ FanDuel points), and if he hits he can be among the highest point-per-dollar plays on the slate. Behind Mixon, Boyd is interesting as a guy with clear paths to upside and a non-awful floor, while Ross is a guy I might potentially mix in lightly — as he’s unlikely to hit, but he’s very valuable on the off chance he does.
The way to attack Cincy is on the ground, and the way to target Miami is through the air. Laird and Parker are both in the mix (and the same could be said for Hurns and Gesicki), while Wilson actually stands out a bit as a player who still has a low floor, but who has the clearest paths to a big game through the air for this offense if he can turn his speed into a couple big gains on short catches against the Bengals. I’ll likely mix in a bit of Laird and Wilson myself, alongside a chunk of Mixon and a bit of Boyd.