Baltimore Blues: Recalling the Dolphins’ Recent Up-and-Down History With the Ravens

The Miami Dolphins are winners of six straight games. If the playoffs began today, not only would Miami be in as the 6th seed, but they also would be playing on Wild Card Saturday at Baltimore; the same place they visit this Sunday in a potential playoff preview. While the ‘Phins aren’t currently competing directly with the Ravens for a wild card spot, that could all change very quickly. The Ravens share the same record as their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers; the Ravens only owning the division lead through a head-to-head tiebreaker.

 This makes a win on Sunday all the more important. A loss would leave Miami without a head-to-head tiebreaker against a team they very could well be competing with for a treasured wild card berth in the final weeks of the season. It won’t be easy, however. Baltimore trots out the best run defense onto the field every Sunday; they only allow only 74.9 rushing yards a game.

 Ryan Tannehill will have to continue playing at the high level he’s played at during the win streak if the Dolphins want to leave Baltimore victorious. Tannehill is coming off his best performance of the season against San Francisco; he tied his season high QB rating with a 130.6 mark. A win at M&T Bank Stadium would put the ‘Phins in prime position to reach the postseason. However, throughout Ryan Tannehill’s tenure in Miami, the Ravens have always been a thorn in not only his but also his team’s side. Including back in the 2014 season, when a late season loss at home to Joe Flacco and the Ravens crushed Miami’s playoff hopes.

 We decided to re-live recent encounters with the Ravens ahead of Sunday’s big showdown. Below we break down what exactly has gone wrong for Miami in previous matchups with Baltimore and what they must change in order to capture a possible season defining win.

Week 13 – 2015: 15-13, Dolphins

In their most recent matchup, Miami eked out an ugly 15-13 win against what was an injury-depleted Baltimore team. The Ravens went into Miami without their starting QB Joe Flacco and star receiver Steve Smith; it showed as the Ravens had a hard time cashing in on points on their drives throughout the game. Despite missing their two best offense players, Baltimore severely outgained and simply outplayed Miami on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens outgained Miami 375 to 219 in total yards. They also converted 22 first downs compared to Miami’s 8.

The positive that was taken from this narrow win against a decimated Ravens team, was this beautiful throw and catch:

devante-parker-td-2015

Miami took the lead after this 38-yard touchdown strike to DeVante Parker and never looked back. With the Dolphins’ second year wideout finding himself in an impeccable form at the moment, it’s not far-fetched to believe he and his quarterback can produce another moment similar to this one. However, it should be noted that Parker suffered a back injury in the 4th quarter against San Francisco; it remains to be seen what type of impact that could potentially have on Parker come Sunday.

ravens-run-stop-2015

 On this short third down snap, the Ravens’ defense holds and forces the Dolphins to punt. While Miami rushed for 137 yards in last year’s meeting with Baltimore, the same success should not be expected this year. As previously mentioned, the Ravens sport the NFL’s best run defense, allowing only 74.9 rushing yards per game at a tune of 3.4 yards a carry (2nd best in the NFL). Making matters even worse for Jay Ajayi and the rest of the Dolphins’ tailbacks is that the Ravens’ run defense seems to turn it up a notch at M&T Bank Stadium; Baltimore is allowing a staggering 53.3 rushing yards per game at home. In other words, 3rd and shorts are by no means going to be easy to convert against this Baltimore run defense.

dumervil-2015

 Health on the offensive line will be key if the Dolphins want to extend their win streak to seven. While Mike Pouncey seems certain to be missing in action on Sunday, the Dolphins are optimistic about the possibility of having both Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert back in the fold. It should be noted that the three Dolphins who stepped in for Pouncey, Albert and Tunsil did an above average job protecting Ryan Tannehill against the 49ers. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins’ offensive line that featured Anthony Steen, Kraig Urbik and Sam Young only allowed 8 quarterback pressures on Tannehill’s 34 drop backs. The unit only allowed one sack on the afternoon. However, against a front seven that features names such as Dumervil and Suggs, it would be naïve to believe the Dolphins would have the same success against the Ravens with the offensive line down three starters again. In this play, Dumervil shows his strength and quickness getting around the edge at will. If the Dolphins’ offensive line fails to regain some of its health by Sunday, we could be seeing a whole lot of this.

Week 14- 2014: 28-13, Ravens

Call Sunday’s game déjà vu if you’d like. The Dolphins also went into this game against the Ravens holders of the sixth and final playoff seed. While Miami started hot, holding an early 10-0 lead, Baltimore ran away with it late and frankly embarrassed Miami on its home field. What was supposed to be a win that could potentially push the Dolphins to edge of the postseason became a loss that sent the team’s season on a downward spiral. Miami never recovered.

forsett-long-run

What ultimately doomed the Dolphins in this forgettable late season meltdown to the Ravens was their lack of physicality. Baltimore punished Miami continuously in the trenches that December afternoon. The Ravens rushed for 183 yards at a clip of 5.9 yards a carry; the ‘Phins only mustered 63 yards on the ground. However, what was really the difference in that game was the Ravens’ pass rush. John Harbaugh’s front seven brought down Ryan Tannehill a total of six times; some sacks proved to be costlier than others. Elvis Dumervil was the star on the afternoon, recording 3.5 sacks.

steve-smith-touchdown

 The Ravens average 19.8 points per game (25th in the NFL). But make no mistakes, Baltimore possesses weapons that could hurt Miami come Sunday. At the top of that list is the ageless Steve Smith, who is having himself another productive season in his already illustrious career; he’s sure to get plenty of his targets his way too. Joe Flacco averages 41.1 pass attempts per game which is good for 4th highest in the league. Byron Maxwell must continue to quietly build on his recent string of strong performances. If the Dolphins’ secondary can keep Smith in check, it could be a long day for the Ravens’ offense. This play shows just why Smith is so special—he  can be lined up anywhere. On this play, Smith goes in motion. He stops just for a moment and, as soon as the ball is snapped, swings out into the flat. This was just far too easy of a pitch and catch for Flacco and Smith.

false-start-goaline-2014

tannehill-sack-3-2014

Against the team that allows the fewest red zone trips per game, the Dolphins cannot afford red zone penalties. In the first play, Miami is set up nicely inside the 10-yard line. A false start penalty quickly turns 2nd and goal from the six-yard line into a 3rd and long situation. The following play subsequently becomes a sack; those are the type of plays that shift momentum over the course of a game. Baltimore also allows the fewest red zone scores per game (1.3). So it is imperative that the Dolphins make the most out of their opportunities once they are inside the 20-yard line.

Week 5 – 2013: 26-23, Ravens

The Dolphins were once again outgained in terms of yards in this meeting with the Ravens in 2013. Baltimore controlled the ball most of the game winning the time of possession battle comfortably (36:16 to 23:44). However, Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker stole the show in this installment of Dolphins-Ravens, including hitting the game-winning field goal.

justin-tucker-50yd-2013

In this instance, Justin Tucker hits from 50-yards out. Tucker has always had the leg from anywhere it seems; last week he hit from 52, 57 and 54 yards out respectively. It’s not often you hear about a kicker possibly being a key figure leading up to a game but that’s indeed what Justin Tucker is. He has yet to miss any of his 27 attempts on the season and has never missed an extra point in his career.

Mike Wallace long ball-2013.gif

We decided to kill two birds with one stone here, reminding you Ryan Tannehill will have to test the Ravens’ secondary on Sunday as well as what Mike Wallace can still do on a football field. It’s no secret the Ravens’ strength on defense is their front seven; while their secondary is by no means awful, Ryan Tannehill and his offense will have a much better chance of moving the ball through the air rather than on the ground in this game. The Ravens will likely stack the box with defenders leaving Tannehill with one-on-one matchups to choose from across the secondary. While Baltimore is holding opposing quarterbacks to an average of an 87.7 QB rating, opposing QBs are completing 63.2% of their passes against this Ravens’ pass defense. There’s no reason Ryan Tannehill can’t at the very least put his team in a solid position to come away with a win on Sunday.

Previously we touched on the Ravens’ most dangerous weapon, Steve Smith. However, Mike Wallace deserves some credit for having a bounce back season in Baltimore. Wallace is on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving and he’s averaging 15.5 yards per catch. Presumably it will be Tony Lippett who will have the responsibility of covering Wallace. Joe Flacco will without a doubt be looking to find Wallace deep against his former team; it is imperative Lippett makes sure Wallace doesn’t get behind him in coverage. If he does, the safeties better be ready to help.

THE SKINNY:

Sunday has the makings of a potential special afternoon; the Dolphins haven’t won seven in a row since the 1985 season. It seems only fitting that the team standing in their way to achieve such feat are the Baltimore Ravens. This matchup has been considered a bad one for the ‘Phins in recent history, and the stats suggest that assertion to be be true. However, this group of Dolphins appear to be built on the same type of swagger and confidence the Ravens have carried themselves with under John Harbaugh.

I suspect these Dolphins will embrace the physicality of the Ravens and match them on each play. This is why despite the Ravens’ elite run defense, Adam Gase will not completely stray away from his star tailback. Gase will make sure the Ravens account for Ajayi the entire game and stack the box, giving Ryan Tannehill a chance to pick apart the Ravens’ secondary. If Tannehill can continue his stellar play, Miami just might be able to defeat Joe Flacco for the first time.

A loss at Baltimore would by no means be a disaster. However, a win would be gargantuan; arguably the biggest win for the franchise in recent history.

And for the players and coaches—the temptation of saying the word “playoffs” just might become harder to fight. 

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