The 2020 NFL season coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has created a roller coaster ride for every team in the league.
Just last week the NFL was forced to move the much-anticipated Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens from Thanksgiving night to Wednesday afternoon that featured three reschedules in the span.
COVID-19 Has Caused Many Lineup Adjustments in 2020
From opt-outs to increased injuries due to lack of offseason training and a canceled preseason, teams have seen a lot of new faces come and go from their starting lineups.
Multiple teams every week have also had to deal with the constant revolving door of who will be out with the coronavirus or a close-contact situation. Again, another example from last week, the league saw the Denver Broncos enter their week 12 matchup without a quarterback. With just one positive QB case, but the entire QB room deemed close-contacts and exposed to the virus, none would be allowed to take the field.
“I think these are very different times than any of us have ever been through. The league has really done a good job, honestly, with the teams and trying to get games played. Again, we all have to be flexible,” Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said. “We all have to be able to adjust, but at the same time, we want to keep the players safe and keep the coaches safe. We want to keep everyone in the building in each facility safe.”
Tagovailoa, Burrow Showdown Will Have to Wait
In Week 13 Miami will play host to the Cincinnati Bengals, where both teams will see the continued effects of 2020 injuries.
The much-anticipated rookie matchup between QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow will have to wait at least one more year as Burrow is on season-ending injured reserve with multiple leg injuries and Tagovailoa could miss his second straight game with a thumb injury.
However, the wide receiver room is the bigger story to keep an eye on heading into week 13 for these two teams.
Dolphins Left Searching After Wilson, Hurns’ Opt-Outs
The Dolphins have had to remain flexible since the season began with two of its WRs opting out once the NFL announced players had the option to do so because of the coronavirus.
However, that raised a few eyebrows since Williams wasn’t a guarantee to be ready for the beginning of the season after suffering a season-ending ACL tear in his rookie season in 2019 and Grant is more of a return specialist.
Thankfully, both were up for the challenge and both were able to start in week one.
Williams, Grant Both Have Dealt with Injuries in 2020
But, Williams has been on IR since week nine this season after a foot injury against the Arizona Cardinals and Grant played just 34-percent of the snaps on offense against the New York Jets last week.
Grant battled a hamstring injury all of last week, forcing his limitation, and had to turn to multiple other receivers in a group effort to pick up the slack. Thankfully he has logged full practices this week so far and looks in-line to start against the Bengals.
However, he has not caught more than four passes in any game this season or been targeted more than six times, something plaguing a Dolphins team that desperately needs help alongside Parker.
Dolphins Receivers Played “Team-Ball” with No Clear No. 2 Wideout Last Week
Eight different receivers caught a pass in the win against the Jets last week with Parker leading the way. He corralled eight catches (14 targets) for 119 yards, but then there was a severe drop off with the team as most hovered in the teens in terms of yardage. While that points to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick spreading the ball around and Miami playing “team ball” it also screams that the Dolphins don’t really have a No. 2 WR.
Dolphins Grooming Younger Pass-Catchers
Despite the struggles, WRs coach Josh Grizzard said developing the younger WRs is something he feels the Dolphins are progressing with quickly.
“I think it’s fun because those guys are young, because they come in here and especially with guys that might not have necessarily played full-time receiver their whole life,” Grizzard said on making progress with so many young receivers. “You’re just getting these guys and they don’t have a bunch of bad or good tendencies.”
Miami and Grizzard are currently working on developing rookie quarterback/running back/wide receiver Malcolm Perry from the United States Naval Academy, waiver-wire acquire Mack Hollins, traded-for receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. and recently reinstated wideout Antonio Callaway who is now on the Dolphins’ active roster after spending time in Cleveland.
It is likely all will be activated if healthy for Sunday’s game, and only Perry is in danger of missing, as he is dealing with a chest injury and did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday.
Cincinnati, Who Has Relied on A.J. Green for Nearly One Decade, Has Downgraded Him to No. 3
On the other side of the football, Bengals’ WR A.J. Green has been the true first option in Cincinnati since his career began in 2011.
Green has played at least nine games in every season of his career, aside from missing all of last season with a foot injury, and has proven to be one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL. But, this season he has seen more up-and-down play than ever despite missing just one game. He has also turned in three games with no receptions and three games with less than three receptions.
Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins Emerging for Bengals
To fill the massive void that Green is leaving, however, the Bengals have moved the ball around quite a lot. They have eight players with more than 100 receiving yards on the season, with both WRs Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins being some of them. Additionally, those two have the opportunity to achieve 1,000 yards on the season.
Boyd is used to the volume as he filled in for Green last season and has since elevated himself to the No. 1 role on the Bengals despite Green being active. He has the most receiving yards for Cincinnati this season (725), but did take a big hit in backup QB Brandon Allen’s first start for Burrow last week. He had just three catches (six targets) for 15 yards and watched as other guys, like Higgins, found the end zone.
Cincinnati Facing Challenges with Backup QB Brandon Allen
With Burrow out for the rest of the season, the Bengals offense will likely have a tough time moving the ball down the field consistently. In their first game without Burrow, Cincinnati struggled with just 155 yards of total offense, half of what the Bengals averaged each game with Burrow.
Cincinnati is expected to start Boyd, Higgins and Green in that order on Sunday.
As End of Regular Season Draws Near, Words of Veteran Coach Ring
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said before the season began that “the team that adapts and has the most discipline (is) going to win,”.
As we get closer to the final playoff push we will see which coaches know how to put their teams in the best position to win despite injuries and COVID-19 cases.
With the Dolphins needing to make the most of one of their easier matchups before the final quarter of the season, it will need to continue using its unfamiliar faces at the WR position.
The Dolphins will host the Bengals on Sunday with kickoff set for 1 p.m. and are expected to start Parker, Grant and Hollins at the WR position as of Thursday afternoon.
Editor’s Note: Wide receivers coach Josh Grizzard does not have a player profile on profootballreference.com, the site FPC Dolphins uses to highlight players and coaches.
Kayla Morton contributed to this article.