South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Rebuilding franchises in opposite directions

- By OmarKelly

Last December the two franchises that will play each other at Hard Rock Stadium at 1 p.m. on Sunday were both on a crash course headed towards destructio­n.

The Miami Dolphins managed to pull off a 38-35 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengalsin the Week 16 matchup, helping the Bengals land theNo. 1 pick inthe 2020 NFL draft, which the franchise used on Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy and national championsh­ip winning quarterbac­k.

The Dolphins beat the New England Patriots the next week, finishing 2019 with five wins, and landed theNo. 5 pick, which Miami used to select Alabama standout qu arte rb ac kTua Tag ovailoa.

Both young quarterbac­ks are viewedas the foundation­al pieces of each franchise’s rebuild. But a year later the Dolphins (7-4) are in position for their first winning season since 2016 and a long-awaited playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Bengals (2-8-1) lost Burrow to a season-ending knee injury and remain an NFL bottom dweller.

Why are the Dolphins somuch further along in their rebuild than the Bengals?

Miami and Cincinnati, which is coached by former Dolphins assistant Zac Taylor, started off in nearly the same spot and both franchise’s have comparable weaponry on offense.

“They present some issues defensivel­y, specifical­ly on third down with their different looks and offensivel­y,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I would say the strength of this team is these

receivers. A.J. Green and Tee Higginsand(Tyler) Boyd. (Drew) Sample — the tight end — is a pretty good player, too. And Gio Bernard. He’s a problem.”

The Dolphins spent nearly

$250 million in contracts this offseason on veteran free agents like Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaw Lawson and the rookie class — featured three first-roundpicks— toupgradet­heir roster.

The Bengals are notorious for being one of the NFL’s most frugal franchises, but spent roughly $211 million in contracts last offseason, placing the franchise tag on Green and signing cornerback TraeWaynes, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury inSeptembe­r, defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who played in five games before suffering a season-ending quadriceps injury, and safetyVonn Bell.

Miami’s free-agentmoves and the return ofXavienHo­ward and BobbyMcCai­n, whobothsuf­fered season-ending injuries last year, helped the Dolphins build the NFL’s third-best defense— which

has amassed 19 turnovers. The Bengals defense ranks 21st in points allowed, and only two teams have created fewer turnovers (11) this season.

The Dolphins signed two free agents on the offensive line— left guard Ereck Flowers and center Ted K arr as—and drafted three linemen early to reinforce the offensive line, which struggled last season.

Miami’ s offensive line is far from a finished product, but they rank

17th in the NFL in sacks allowed

pergame(2.2)— andthatinc­ludes the 10 sacks the unit has allowed the past twoweeks.

The only addition Cincinnati, which was 2-14 last year, made was signing center Xavier Su-aFilo, who is the team’s starting right guard, and Alex Redmond, a backup. The Bengals also got JonahWilli­ams, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, back from a season-ending knee injury he suffered last season, and he’s blossoming into a respect able left tackle.

But that group hasn’t created a solid offensive line for the Ben gals, who have allowed 38 sacks in 11 games. That is 3.5 sacks per game, which ranks as second-worst in the NFL. That constant pressure the quarterbac­ks are under contribute­d to Bur row getting hurt.

The Dolphins also have a reliable, experience­d backup in Ryan Fitzpatric­k, who might start Sunday’s game because of the thumb injury that side lined Tag ovailoa last week.

Once Burrow got hurt the Bengals turned to Brandon Allen, a 2016 sixth-round pickwho has bounced aroundtheN­FL, playing for five teams in five seasons.

Allen will start his fifth NFL game against the Dolphins, and the hope is that he can help the Ben gals shake their“Bungles” reputation as a franchise, which has lingered for decades with the Marvin Lewis era being the only exception.

“They’re playing hardfor each other, andit’s going to turn forus at some point. I told them it’s frustratin­g — you’re sick to your stomach, it sucks,” Taylor said. “It’s not fun to lose. Butwe know that this tide is going to turn for us and we’re going to look back on this (someday). This is a necessary part of our growth, but weneedto get somewins toshow for all theworkwe’ve put in.”

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