Previewing Week 8: Dolphins at Ravens
After another ugly loss, the Ravens have a quick turnaround before a Thursday night home game against the Miami Dolphins. The Ravens offense has been nothing short of a complete disaster this season, and perhaps even more disappointing has been the defense that has looked nothing like the dominant unit it was thought to be heading into the season. While injuries have certainly taken their toll, the defense’s complete inability to stop the run is puzzling. Brandon Williams was thought to perhaps be the key piece that was missing, but his return did little to inhibit the Vikings ability to control the game on the ground with 2 back-up RBs and a back-up QB under center. The Ravens inside linebackers and safeties have been major culprits in the team’s defensive struggles, and there is not much to look forward to over the horizon other than hoping they start playing better. There is some precedent to suggest the player’s performance may improve as Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle both have performed very well against the run in year’s past and run defense has also been a strength for C.J. Mosley.
The other aspect to consider here is that the underperforming offense may be dragging down the defense with it. The Ravens are 3-1 in games where they scored first, and are 0-3 when the opposition makes the first mark. The offense frankly is not built to play from behind as the passing attack is by far the weakest aspect of this Ravens team. On the flip side, the defense is better suited to play with a lead as defensive coordinator Dean Pees is more free to make aggressive playcalls without having to worry about giving up a potentially insurmountable second score. Bad offense also means the defense is on the field more and more prone to tiring out, especially with teams hammering them by running the ball. The Ravens might be catching a bit of a break this week with the Miami Dolphins as they have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and have not been able to get their rushing attack going all season. Heading into week 6, the Dolphins had the 30th ranked offense and 31st ranked rushing attack according to DVOA and are averaging a meager 81.7 YPG at 3.3 YPC. This may just be the elixir the Ravens need to get their run defense figured out, or of course, the Ravens 32nd ranked run defense may be what the Dolphins need to get their offense going. Something will have to give this Thursday night though, but it’s anyone’s guess right now who will come out on top.
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It’s impossible to guess who will win between the Ravens horrible run defense and the Dolphins poor rushing attack, and there is yet another match-up that looks like two major weaknesses facing off. The Dolphins have one of the most porous pass defenses in the NFL, rated 28th by DVOA while allowing opposing QBs an average passer rating of 102.9, 4th worst in the league. Of course the Ravens have one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL as well, averaging a pathetic 157 YPG through the air, dead last in the NFL and rated 28th in DVOA. One of these two opposing forces has to win right? If the Ravens had healthy WRs, I might favor Joe Flacco at home in this match-up, but it is quite possible that Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro will be the Ravens starting WRs in this one. The Dolphins also have a fairly strong pass-rush led by DT Ndamukong Suh and DE Cameron Wake which does not bode well for a shaky Ravens offensive line. While Miami has a poor pass defense, their rush defense is extremely strong, rated 2nd in the NFL by DVOA. This is probably a week the Ravens will need to pass the ball, even if it is not overly effective.
The Dolphins will be starting their back-up QB Matt Moore in this game, and based on the play of Jay Cutler thus far in the season, he may be an improvement for their offense. Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry, who plays mostly out of the slot, will probably be the Dolphins greatest offensive threat in this game. Rookie CB Jaylen Hill, who finally saw the field and had some impressive moments this past week against the Vikings, may be tasked with covering Landry which will be a critical match-up in this one. The status of talented WR DeVante Parker is still up in the air, but even if he does play the Ravens outside CBs Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr should be able to hold him and fellow receiver Kenny Stills in check. Miami’s RB Jay Ajayi had a breakout campaign in 2016, but he has been largely ineffective thus far in 2017. This could be due to poor run-blocking by the offensive line, but he has also been dealing with nagging elbow, toe and knee injuries that could be affecting his play.
This Thursday night game has all the makings of an absolute stinker to watch, with two teams that are struggling to score facing off on a short week. I would expect the Ravens defensive front to rebound at home after a tough road game hopefully resulting in a throwback Ravens victory keyed by a strong defensive performance. I think it is going to be an ugly, low scoring game, but I see the Ravens coming out on top 16 – 10.