Coming into this Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins will look to improve their record to 5-3. They will be playing in a highly hostile environment, Baltimore, and their "road warrior" tag will be put to the greatest test all season. You see, Miami has gone 4-0 when they've gone on the road but their road opponents have all turned out to be underachievers this season. They've gone 0-3 at home because they've faced three of the best teams the league has to offer at home so far. With that being said, if the Dolphins can beat the Ravens at Baltimore it would be a very strong statement to make at the end of our hardest stretch of schedule and at the beginning of the playoff hunt.
Simply put, the Ravens are healthy and clicking on all cylinders. They have one of the nastiest defenses in the league, bolstered by a mean defensive line, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) linebackers to play the game and and a ballhawk safety who's back from injury and already making an immediate impact. Beyond that, Ray Rice is a top-tier running back, Joe Flacco is one of the better young quarterbacks in the game, Baltimore has a strong offensive line, solid wide receiver arsenal and good tight end core.
They're not just a playoff caliber team, they're Super Bowl contenders and if the Fins want to be considered in the same light they'll have to embrace their underdog role and upset the Ravens.
Miami's defense must force turnovers and capitalize on every loose ball, tipped pass and forced throw. In other words, go for strips and hold on to potential interceptions (cough, Chris Clemons, cough). Flacco has made mistakes when roughed up, so expect to see more of Cameron Wake creating pressure and maybe some more cornerback blitzes after the success Benny Sapp had last week. I'll be looking out for Miami's match-ups versus the Baltimore tight ends and Sean Smith's ability to stay physical and consistent - two elements that are still of concern for the Fins' D.
Finally, I hope (but unfortunately do not expect) to see much better offensive play-calling this Sunday. Meaning no wildcat (even if we're leading), no play action calls in one-receiver sets, no runs on third and long (it wouldn't hurt to take a shot deep), no short passes when you need double the yards, and most importantly a plan B if plan A isn't working.
But but back to the football field. Vontae Davis has been a very good cornerback for Miami this season and Flacco is not immune to throwing interceptions, so I expect him to challenge Smith early. It's no secret he has struggled this season and even if Vontae completely eliminates a wide receiver from the game, whoever is on the other side will still be a challenge for Sean. It's also no secret that the Fins have struggled mightily against tight ends this year and Baltimore has more than one good tight end. This could prove costly. The Ravens running game has been good but not as outstanding as it was last year, so hopefully the Fins can keep them in check - forcing Flacco to pass and give Mr. Wake more time to wreak havoc. As for defense, the Ravens are not just stingy, they not only force turnovers, they try to score a touchdown at every opportunity. They're going to play as nasty as they usually do and dare us to match their physicality. It's hard to find a weak point on the Ravens roster but the secondary might be the closest thing to weak that they have. The Dolphins must try to exploit that.
What to Watch For
- How Sean Smith reacts to possibly being picked on by Joe Flacco.
- How the Fins adjust to covering Baltimore's tight ends.
- Cameron Wake's effectiveness against the Raven's O-Line
- Miami's play-calling and willingness to open up the offense, which will ultimately determine whether or not they stand any chance against Baltimore.
Since this is the NFL and no game is ever an easy one, the analysts and experts should not count Miami out. Especially since Baltimore almost lost a nail biter to Buffalo and allowed over 30 points. I'm sure the Fins have studied this and game planned accordingly, but Baltimore is still in the top 5 on ESPN's Power Rankings.
On another note, following this game the Dolphins go into a much less intense remaining schedule, where they play Tennessee, Chicago, at Oakland, and Cleveland. Although each of these teams have shown flashes of greatness, they all seem to be very winnable games. If we lose this Sunday we would fall to 4-4 but go into four very winnable games that could leave us at 8-4 (if we're lucky enough). But I digress, one game at a time and no game is ever an easy one. Let's focus on the task at hand and hope Miami can beat the always difficult Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.