Just got done checking ESPN.com, and much to my surprise, every single analyst is picking against the Dolphins this week. Every single "expert" and Sunday NFL Countdown crew member is going with the Ravens to end the Dolphins' road perfection. I'm not saying the Ravens shouldn't be the favorite, they should. They are the better team right now on paper, and only a Dolphins win this Sunday will change that. But for nobody to be giving this team a chance?
That's a good thing the way I look at it. Hopefully the guys in that locker room get a hold of those picks, because anything that will fuel their "us against the world" mentality heading into another hostile environment can only benefit a team who is earning the right to be called "road warriors." Then again, it shouldn't take bulletin board material to get this team fired up to play. At the end of the year, I bet we look back to this week as the biggest non-division game of the season. If the Dolphins can escape Baltimore 5-0 on the road, they should be the favorite to snag the final wildcard spot in my opinion. A loss, though, could prevent them from ever emerging out of the middle of the pack.
1. 7 points > 3 points
Well here goes the obvious statement of the week. The Dolphins must, I repeat must, find a way to stop settling for field-goals and score more touchdowns. 13 field-goals in three weeks is just unacceptable for this offense. Sure, they beat the Packers and Bengals by kicking a bunch of field-goals, but against great teams like the Steelers, it just doesn't get the job done. I would probably give the Steelers the slight edge when ranking Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but the Ravens did beat them in Heinz Field back in Week 4 after all. If the Dolphins' defense finds a way to play out of their minds on Sunday, maybe settling for field-goals will be good enough.
My hunch is, it's going to take at least a couple touchdowns, though. Playcalling needs to be better, but the players need to execute better too. I can understand not wanting Henne to make any drive killing mistakes, but if you trust him to air the ball out inside your own ten yard line (like last week), why not let him take some chances inside the red zone? Maybe not against bad teams, but against teams like the Ravens, your going to have to take some risks to pull off a victory. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but can someone please tell Dan Henning to call a few fade routes to the corner of the endzone. Brandon Marshall is 6'4, 230 pounds. Utilize that.
2. Pressure Flacco, force a turnover or two
Last week the Dolphins didn't generate nearly the type of pressure we expected against the Bengals' mediocre offensive line. They didn't sack Palmer once. They did pressure him on some key plays that either prevented a big play, or got the Cincinnati offense off the field on third down, though. Cameron Wake hitting Palmer before he could find a wide open Jordan Shipley and Randy Starks forcing Palmer to throw off his back foot on that under thrown pass intended for T.O. on the final drive, immediately come to mind. I'm not sure they can rely on great coverage all game long again, though. It sure would be a luxury if Vontae Davis and Sean Smith could play that type of lockdown coverage every game.
I'm beginning to think Vontae Davis is the real deal, but Sean Smith still has a long way to go before we can start banking on both starting receivers getting blanketed all game. Cameron Wake hasn't registered a full sack since Green Bay, so he's due for a monster afternoon. On the other side, Koa Misi needs to be a little more consistent getting after the quarterback. There was a reason that the Dolphins submitted a waiver claim for Shawne Merriman. This defense needs someone on the other side that can cause some disruption. That way offensive lines can't focus so much attention on doubling Wake.
3. Win on the ground
The team that can run the football better just may have the advantage on Sunday. Watching how average the Dolphins have been at running the football this season and thinking about how physical of a football team the Ravens are, most would probably think the Dolphins would be over-matched here. Not so fast. It would probably surprise many that the Ravens are ranked 17th against the run this season, and they are only averaging 3.6 yards per carry.
I certainly don't think Ronnie and Ricky will be able to get the ground game going with ease, as it's always difficult to line up and run the ball down the throats of such a physical front seven, but I see both doing enough to keep the Dolphins' somewhat balanced offensively. Defensively, the Dolphins should be able to keep Ray Rice in check for the most part. Once again, they need to set the edge better, and not get caught in over pursuit once the Ravens decide to run to the outside, but it's going to be tough sledding for the Ravens running the ball up the middle.