McKinnie pivotal to Fins' season

Miami may have to overcome likely mismatch against Cincy D-line to survive

Updated: October 30, 2013, 11:51 AM ET
By Field Yates | ESPN Insider

Bryant McKinnieJoe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT via Getty ImagesBryant McKinnie needs to hold up against Cincinnati's pass rush.

Here's an unintentional scheduling anomaly: Precisely one Week 9 game features two teams with records better than .500.

But don't confuse the lack of matchups between winning teams with a lack of intrigue. The week kicks off with an important contest Thursday night, as the Dolphins host the Bengals in what could be a make-or-break game for their season. It sounds crazy, given that they have nine games left to play, but after storming out to a 3-0 start, the Dolphins have dropped four straight and could fall 3½ games behind the Patriots with a fifth defeat and a New England win.

As we break down the pivotal personnel matchups that should figure prominently in Week 9, there's one place in particular Miami fans will want to focus -- left tackle. New addition Bryant McKinnie is the first of our six likely player mismatches for the week, and it's not a mismatch in the Fins' favor.

Bryant McKinnie, LT, Miami Dolphins

Acquired Oct. 21, McKinnie had just three days of practice before being thrust into the Dolphins' starting lineup as Ryan Tannehill's blindside protector. The shuffling along the line didn't do much in the way of improvement, as the Dolphins surrendered six second-half sacks against the Patriots and are up to 32 on the season, most in the NFL. The job for McKinnie doesn't get any easier this week, as he'll face a Cincinnati defensive line that has reserves with starter-level ability such as Wallace Gilberry, on pace for six sacks despite starting just one game in 2013. The front-line defensive ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are long, powerful and athletic, something McKinnie must account for. The mountainous McKinnie needs to tap into his own length to keep the rushers at bay.

Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.