When the Dolphins pass the football
The Dolphins offense will be different this week with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor fired. For the passing game, that means quarterback Ryan Tannehill should have more latitude with audibles, and he definitely had more input in stressing plays he likes to run. One supposes the Dolphins also eliminated the Lazor-diagrammed plays in which three receivers ran 5 yards to the middle of the field, clogging that area, and one receiver ran a deep sideline to the left — posting no one to the right side of the field. That’s the play on which Tannehill threw an interception against the Jets last week. Poorly conceived or terribly executed, one or the other. The Dolphins are dealing with some injury issues as Rishard Matthews will not play and Kenny Stills is troubled by an ankle injury. The Ravens can still get after the quarterback despite the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs early on. They are 14th in the NFL in sacks, led by Miamian Elvis Dumervil, who has six.
When the Dolphins run the football
So is new offensive play-caller Zac Taylor going to run the football and be stubborn about it? Because failing to do so, in part, got Lazor fired. (Not to mention his personality rubbed some people the wrong way.) The Dolphins have been able to run the football when they’ve stuck with it. They just have not stuck with it very often. Lamar Miller and rookie Jay Ajayi were absent from the game last week as Miami called only nine run plays — one on third-and-25. Interim coach Dan Campbell has said he wants a more physical running game. Let’s see if, with a new approach, he can deliver. It won’t be easy, by the way, because the thing the Baltimore defense does best is stop the run. The Ravens’ outside linebackers are good at setting the edge. Their interior is stout despite the loss of Haloti Ngata, the building-sized man who went on to the Detroit Lions. Brandon Williams has taken Ngata’s place. The Ravens are riding a 19-game streak in which they’ve held the opponent to 4 yards per rush or less, the NFL’s longest streak.
When the Ravens pass the football
Their starting quarterback is out. Their best receiver is out. Their starting tight end is out. Their starting running back is out. The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries to not just their starters but also their offensive stars. And that suggests a tough day for them against the Dolphins. But the fact is the offensive line, which also has struggled with injuries, is still playing at a high level. The Ravens have had four games in which they have not allowed a sack. The battle between outstanding right guard Marshall Yanda and Miami’s Ndamukong Suh will be interesting to watch, depending on how much the Dolphins move Suh around. Local product Kamar Aiken, who has bounced around the NFL with four teams, has apparently found a niche as a starter with the Ravens since Steve Smith was lost for the season. It will be interesting to see whether the Ravens go after rookie Bobby McCain, who has been inserted at starting cornerback for this game.
When the Ravens run the football
Baltimore rushed for 183 yards in an easy victory over Miami last season, but leading rusher Justin Forsett is on injured reserve, making rookie Javorious Allen (who?) the team’s top ball carrier. This would not bode well for the Ravens except the Dolphins have set a terrible standard for stopping the run this season, ranking 32nd in the NFL, the worst run defense the Dolphins have ever put on the field in the franchise’s history. The Dolphins are allowing an average of 138.5 rushing yards per game. The Ravens are an unspectacular 18th in the NFL running the football. They average only 98.5 yards per game. This should be an epic battle — terrible against awful.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is the second-most-accurate kicker in NFL history, and he has connected on three game-winning field goals this season. He also is leading the NFL with 51 kickoff touchbacks. Punter Sam Koch, meanwhile, leads the NFL in net punting average. And the Ravens have blocked a kick of some sort (2 PATs, 2 FGs and a punt) in five consecutive games. The Ravens also rank first in punt-return average. The bottom line is this team has won four games primarily on its special teams.
John Harbaugh has a team that has had its guts ripped out by injuries. And yet this coaching staff has somehow managed to have the diminished roster in every game this season and they’ve won three of four games. That is very good work. Campbell has a team that has had its guts ripped out by poor performance. Players were downcast early in the week after two consecutive losses, but the coaching staff, minus the fired Lazor, got everyone re-energized by Friday.