Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens – TNF Preview

The 4-2 Miami Dolphins head to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland to take on the 3-4 Baltimore Ravens. Thursday Night Football this week will feature two up-and-down teams with under performing offenses and above average defenses. This week’s prime time game has the potential to be a dull affair, however, TNF has served up some corkers in 2017 and we can only hope (*fingers crossed*) that Dolphins @ Ravens does not disappoint and gives us an excellent match up between two teams on the AFC play off bubble.

 

History

While the Ravens lead the series 8-6 all time, since John Habraugh took over as Head Coach in 2008 the Ravens are 6-1 vs Miami with Miami’s sole win coming in 2015. In both January 2009 and 2002, it was the Ravens who rolled into South Florida and sent the Dolphins packing holding Miami to under 10 points in both wild card encounters.

The biggest connection between these two cities (not franchises as you’ll remember the current Ravens franchise came over from Cleveland in the 90’s) is the Don Shula link. Schula is arguably one of the greatest Head Coaches in NFL history and before his 25-year reign in Miami he coached the Baltimore Colts. It was during his time in Baltimore that Schula’s Colts lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath’s New York Jets and 1964 NFL Championship Game (pre-Super Bowl) to Jim Brown’s Cleveland Browns.

(Photo Source: NFL Archives)

For the Ravens, their two greatest defensive players (and potentially top-5 all-time Ravens) safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis were both drafted out of the University of Miami. Now that we’ve got that brief history lesson out of the way, lets get into the TNF match-up.

 

Which offense can win this game

Miami’s offense is ranked 32nd in the NFL averaging 261.8 yards per game while the Ravens come in at 31st with 277.6 yards per game. I think it’s a fair assessment to say that this one might not be the high-powered offensive shoot out of last weeks Chiefs/ Raiders tilt (although anything can happen in the NFL!). The Dolphins are 31st in points scored while Baltimore is 23rd.

Where this game will likely be decided is through the air as both teams will be loading up the box to stop Baltimore’s run game which has averaged 120 yards per game (12th) and Jay Ajayi who despite struggling so far in 2017 will look to get going against a Ravens front that has allowed the most rushing yards per game (145).

Joe Flacco and Matt Moore, one of these two uninspiring quarterbacks will have to find a way to win this game for their team rather than throw it away through back breaking turnovers. Ajayi has always performed better as games get into the fourth quarter and an inability to move the ball on offense would force an exhausted Ravens defense to try and slowdown Miami’s play making trio of Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills.

If Matt Moore is unable to move the chains then Miami’s pass rushers won’t get a chance to rest and we could see a run defense which has performed well so far be exposed for the first time. If forced to say, I would most likely give the edge to the Dolphins in this one as Flacco is having to deal with a banged up receiving corps on a short-week where his main targets might well be Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore and Griff Whalen.

 

The defenses need to help out their offenses

The Baltimore Ravens currently co-lead the NFL with 10 interceptions (Jaguars also have 10) while Miami has the 3rd least with just three picks all season. There is no better way to take the pressure off your struggling offense than to give them the ball in great field position. We know that Matt Moore has that “gun slinger” mentality about him where he’s not afraid to throw 50:50 jump balls and try to squeeze throws into tight windows. The Ravens have thrown the 3rd most interceptions this year and after cutting veteran CB Byron Maxwell, Miami is placing a lot of pressure on their young corners in a game where the opposing team does not have an X-factor WR.

(Photo Source: Sun Sentinel)

The big test on defense will be trying to bottle up the oppositions run game and allowing each team’s respective pass rushers to pin back their ears and get after the QB. Both teams are largely middle of the pack in both sacking the opposing QB and sacks allowed. Each defensive coordinator will be licking their chops to let go the likes of Williams Hayes, Andre Branch, Cameron Wake (who is playing like an All-Pro) and Charles Harris for the ‘Fins and Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Michael Pearce and dialing up Tony Jefferson safety blitzes for Baltimore.

 

The special teams battle

The difference in a likely close fought contest could very well be special teams. The Ravens have arguably the best kicker in the league in Justin Tucker who is automatic inside 50 yards and they also lead the league in yards per kick return with Bobby Rainey (returned a kick off for a TD last week) – thus putting their under performing offense on a short field. The Ravens are 3rd in yards per punt return (Michael Campanaro avg 13.8yd) – these hidden yards matter!

(Photo Source: Jerry Jackson/ Baltimore Sun)

This is a distinct advantage over the Dolphins where Jakeem Grant has struggled in the return game averaging 22.3 yards on kick returns and 6.5 yards on punt returns. Grant does possess sprinter speed and I would not put it past him taking a return to the house in a big prime time game. Cody Parkey has been a nice surprise addition for Miami and is currently 100% on all 8 field goals this year, however, he has missed 2 extra points this season. Special teams is often referred to as hidden yards and in tense prime time affairs it can often be the winning edge most play-off bubble teams crave. Punters are people too!

 

Follow Tom Like on Twitter at @TomLikeNFL.

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