Miami Dolphins (7-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
Sunday December 4, 1:00 EST – M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Betting Line: Ravens – 4
On the morrow he will leave, as my hopes have flown before. Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Is it tacky to quote Edgar Allen Poe ahead of a crucial tilt in Baltimore? Sure. Is it fitting?
This is where Miami Dolphins seasons go to die. The last two Miami playoff exits were dealt at the hands of the team donning purple jerseys. The 2014 season saw a similar scenario as another December match-up with the Ravens ended in Baltimore running roughshod on the Dolphins playoff hopes.
If the playoffs started this weekend, this would be the three vs. six match-up in the AFC. While the Ravens may still find a way into a playoff spot via a divisional title should they lose this game, the Dolphins will essentially make or break their season on the back of the result of this contest.
With the AFC West teams playing 75 minute football games against one another, a 10 win Dolphins team is a near certainty to achieve playoff glory for the first time in two presidential terms. A win in this game gives the Dolphins an 8-4 record and head to head tie-breakers over Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Baltimore – the three teams nipping at their heels.
And with remaining games against a broken-winged Cardinals team coming across the country for the early time slot and a trip to the Meadowlands to face a Jets team that will probably be in full tank mode at that point, it’s easy to point to this game as a potential bridge to a 10-4 record.
The two toughest games on the schedule follow with a trip to Buffalo and the season finale hosting the Patriots.
That’s how important this game is. If the Dolphins win, they’re going to the tournament – I promise.
So how will they get this all-important, ever-eluding victory? I will tell you:
Dolphins Offense vs. Ravens Defense:
Devante Parker is still ailing, but has a shot to play on Sunday. More importantly, it sounds like the Dolphins are getting Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil back. The Ravens feature one of the best front sevens in the NFL so this will help mitigate the potential loss of Parker. On top of that, Ravens top cover man, Jimmy Smith, is dealing with his own injury so we’ll see if he’s healthy enough to go.
Controlling the line of scrimmage is going to be a difficult task. Jay Ajayi has had a quiet stretch of games and a 100 yard day would almost certainly lead to a Dolphins victory. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams are in the middle of that vaunted front and they, collectively, weigh about as much as a Volkswagen.
The emerging staple of the Dolphins offense has been the play action misdirection throwback. Expect this, and plenty of designed moving pockets to wear these big boys out and keep their snap counts to a minimum as they drink Gatorade and catch their breath on the sideline.
The old adage has always been that you run to set up the pass. I think the Dolphins will reverse that trend and attack the Ravens with the intermediate passing game and attempt to soften them up the way they did with San Francisco.
Zach Orr and C.J. Mosely are an exceptional linebacker duo that rarely leave the field. With their inside presence, and the pass rush of Elvis Dummerville and the ageless Terrell Suggs, expect the Dolphins to run plenty of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) and alleviate some of the pressure the Ravens defense creates.
Lardarius Webb has been an up and down player for the Ravens and should draw our biggest wide out whether that’s Parker or Leonte Carroo. Shareece Wright is a guy that can be taken advantage of with some double moves and short area quickness.
It’s not going to be an easy day for the Miami offense. Third down and red zone conversion will be critical to salvaging any production against this top flight unit.
This feels like a perfect time for Jakeem Grant to get a bit of redemption from his recent poor form. If he still has the return job, be it punt or kickoff, I could see him popping a big play.
Dolphins Defense vs. Ravens Offense:
Joe Flacco is one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. His poor play is pushed under the rug because that’s what we do when 1.) A guy wins a Super Bowl or, 2.) He makes a lot of money.
Big contracts and team success does not equate to strong individual play. He’s dead last among 32 starters in yards per attempt, 30th in touchdown pass percentage and 20th in interception percentage.
The passing game is one of the worst and is nearly outdone by a running game that averages only 3.6 yards per carry.
It’s this ineptitude where the Dolphins can capitalize. If Marshal Yanda doesn’t play, or isn’t at full strength, he will have a difficult time dealing with Ndamukong Suh. His ability to eat up double teams, and with the emergence of Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell, it becomes the Miami linebackers vs. the Ravens running backs.
That match-up favors the road team quite substantially.
Mike Wallace thinks this is a revenge game but he’s going to be locked up by Byron Maxwell or Tony Lippett – wherever he decides to line up.
Steve Smith could provide some match-up issues as the 37 year continues to be a fierce competitor.
The Ravens will somewhat mirror the Dolphins attack with those heavy sets with two or three tight end formations. Dennis Pita is on the field for almost ¾ of the team’s snaps, Darren Waller got significant reps last week and the third tight end, Nick Boyle saw some time.
They want to play action and throw to the short flats on crossing or drag routes before trying to expose you deep. The Dolphins deep passing defense has been a strong point this year, but this will be the team’s biggest test.
If the Dolphins don’t allow any long completions and shut down the run, the Ravens offense will not be able to function. Flacco will begin to force balls and he’s very susceptible to being hit while he throws – a specialty of the resurgent Cameron Wake.
I fully expect multiple takeaways and short fields for the offense in a game where they are going to need them. The Ravens will be lucky to find the end-zone on Sunday.
Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about the Dolphins six game winning streak lacking impressive victories. Winning a third of your season’s schedule respectfully is impressive even if you’re play El Tuna High each week.
And if we’re going to harp on the Dolphins wins, how about a glance back at the Ravens recent run? They beat the Browns at home and we’re trailing at half time in that game. They beat the Steelers with a one-legged Ben Roethlisberger and narrowly won a home game against a Bengals team missing AJ Green. These wins came during a stretch where they lost to the Jets and Cowboys as well.
I think the Dolphins might be a little salty coming into this game. They fended off a reborn Colin Kaepernick last week and their six game winning streak is getting very minimal publicity. The longer this streak grows, the more these guys have to play with motivation.
The Dolphins almost fell victim to trap games each of the last two weeks and they knew this was the game that could essentially decide their fate. Give me a hungry, Adam Gase led team in that situation every single time.
As for the Ravens schedule ahead, they go to New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with a home game against Philadelphia sandwiched in there. With a loss against the Dolphins, the Ravens still control their divisional title hopes, but with the Patriots up next, two consecutive losses before the pivotal Pittsburgh game would be difficult to over-come.
Even still, the Patriots and Steelers are Baltimore’s two biggest rivals in recent years so they could peak ahead just a tad.
Forget the intangibles, looking ahead, any of that stuff. I’m predicting a big Dolphins win because of the schematic advantage. Vance Joseph is going to have his defense turned to maximum decibel level to bury this mediocre offense.
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