In weeks prior, I have been giving every element of the game (run, pass, special-teams) it's own individual post as we preped for the Dolphins' upcoming game. This week, though, I'm going to shake things up a bit. I'm combining the "On the Ground," "Through the Air," and "Kicking Game" previews into one post. This way we can expand our branch of topics throughout the week.
I know I said to move on from Randy Moss yesterday, but it appears many Dolphin fans are still quite upset with the front office when you see some of the rants in other blogs and forums throughout the web. Maybe Jeff Ireland did make a bad call, but that doesn't change the fact that we still have a season to play.
A trip to Baltimore is on this week's slate, with major playoff implications on the line. The Ravens have a one game lead over the Dolphins in the wildcard standings, and another road win would put Miami right in the thick of things as the first-half of the season comes to an end.
The Ravens are a popular choice to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and are widely considered to be the most complete team in football. They still have a great defense led by arguably the league's best front seven. They are starting to come around on the offensive side of the ball too, with an emerging franchise quarterback that has weapons like Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin at his side.
Make no mistake, though, this is a very winable game for the Dolphins. Don't get me wrong, the Ravens are a very good team that has the potential to become great, but it took them overtime to knock off the winless Bills at home and they lost to the same Bengals team the Dolphins should have dominated if it weren't for a lucky T.O. touchdown and five field goals.
This could finally be the game that the Dolphins separate themselves from the middle of the pack and place a claim as one of the league's elite teams. A win certainly wouldn't mean they have arrived and there would still be plenty of work left to be done for this team to get into the playoffs, but a win on Sunday would go a long way in makingsome of the Dolphins'goals become a reality.
So let's evaluate how the Dolphins and Ravens stack up in all three phases of the game.
Dolphins running game (16th) vs. Ravens run defense (17th)
Outside of the wheels falling off inside the red zone, the most disappointing thing about the 2010 Miami Dolphins has been the falloff of their running game. Who would have imagined this Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ledattack dropping all the way to 16th in the league through seven games after finishing 09' as the 4th best running game in football? Like I have mentioned on many other occasions, if your going to point fingers, point them right at this front office for replacing all three of the interior O-line starters from last year. Although, I believe the Dolphins may have found something special with rookie guard John Jerry and I expect that he will only improve each and every week, center Joe Berger and left guard Richie Incognito aren't generating the same push this O-line had the last two seasons.
Traditionally, the Ravens haven't been an easy defense to run on, but running on this 2010 version certainly isn't an impossible feat. They actually barely rank in the bottom half of the league when it comes to stopping the run, so Dan Henning has to at least attempt to get Ronnie and Ricky involved early and often. Having said that, because the Dolphins are a power running team, I don't expect them to have too much success against that Baltimore front seven. Maybe if they had a speedster who could get to the edge they might be able to gash this Ravens' run defense, but I just don't see this Dolphins' offensive line getting much of a push against the likes of Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata.
Ravens running game (12th)vs. Dolphins run defense (11th)
While the Ravens rank a respectable 12th on the ground, they are only managing 3.6 yards per carry. They are still a dangerous running team with a back like Ray Rice, don't get me wrong, but for whatever reason, they just don't seem to be having the kind of success they had last year. And it may still be too early to tell, but stopping the run may be becoming the strength of this football team. They have yet to crack the top ten, but they seem to be getting better each and every week. And in the games, they seem to be only getting better as the game goes on.
Two weeks ago, they absolutely dominated the Steelers' offensive line and Reshard Mendenhall in the second-half. Last week, despite giving up a few big runs to Cedric Benson in the first-half, they rose to the occasion after halftime and wound up holding Benson to a mere 3.4 yards per carry. I will say Wake and Misi need to continue to set the edge effectively and the rest of the front seven can't get caught in over pursuit once offenses decide to test the perimeter, but that appears to be the only thing separating the Dolphins from being dominate against the run right now.
Dolphins passing attack (12th)vs. Ravens pass defense (9th)
Despite all the injuries that plagued the Ravens' secondary to start the season, they are still managing a top ten pass defense. And now that Ed Reed is back patrolling center-field, this is a very dangerous team to come out and try to throw on. But that doesn't mean Dan Henning won't try. If you've watched this Dolphins team enough this season, you would know that they no longerabide by a run-first mentality. In my opinion, anyway, this is now a pass first offense.
That wasn't the vision this offense had at the beginning of the year, but they are being forced to play to their offensive line's strengths, which is currently pass blocking. That won't be an easy task against the Ravens, though. They have only put up 12 sacks on the season so far, but blocking the likes of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata is always easier said than done. If the Dolphins can keep Henne clean once again this Sunday, he should be able to put together another solid day. One mental lapse on Henne's part, though, could be the difference in the game. And let's not forget the biggest key of the day. The Dolphins need to be just as effective throwing the ball on their opponents side of the field as their own. Would somebody please get Brandon Marshall some touchdowns?
Ravens passing attack (15th)vs. Dolphins pass defense (12th)
Just like Brandon Marshall has done for the Dolphins, Anquan Boldin has given the Ravens a legitimate go-to threat for Joe Flacco to work with. The only difference is he's putting up touchdowns, crossing the goal-line five times already. But with the way Vontae Davis has been playing this season, we shouldn't have to worry too much about Boldin's side of the field. Outside of conceding that one long pass to Greg Jennings, Davis has been flat out dominating his matchup week in and week out. I think he matches up well against Boldin too, because of how physical of a corner he is.
As we all know, though, the Dolphins still need someone to step up on the other side of the field. Sean Smith is expected to get the start on Sunday after covering Terrell Owens very well all game long and sealing the winwith a fourth quarter pick last week. Now we need to see some consistency on Smith's part if he wants to cement his name in stone for that starting position opposite Vontae. If he can do that, the sky is the limit for this corner tandem. Smith will have his hands full with Derrick Mason on Sunday, though, who continues to find ways to get the job done, even at 36 years of age. Don't forget about Todd Heap either. Heap is putting together another productive season so far with 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards, and these Dolphins have struggled covering tight ends at times. As always, the Dolphins could use a little help from their pass rush. Outside of a couple quarterback hurries from Cameron Wake, the Dolphins didn't get much pressure on Carson Palmer. Misi could sure help Wake out by producing some pressure of his own, but hopefully we see Cameron abuse Michael Oher a few times on Sunday.
Well, Dan Carpenter continues to establish himself as one of the best kickers in football and the Dolphins are arguably fresh off their best kickoff coverage game so far this season. But just one mistake on special-teams is all it takes spoil an otherwise solid day. Davone Bess muffed a punt that luckily didn't cost the Dolphins points, but it was obvious Bess wasn't as confident the rest of the game. Hopefully he gets his confidence back in a hurry because he was starting to emerge as a very solid punt returner after having a sub-par 2009 season with the same role. The Ravens don't have any big time return men to fear this Sunday, but they have been covering kicks and punts very well through seven games. It will be interesting to see who the Dolphins let return kickoffs. Nolan Carroll has clearly flashed the most potential, but Patrick Cobbs always hits the hole hard despite not being much of a home run threat.