It's time to look ahead now to Sunday's game against the Ravens at Dolphin Stadium - a game which features the return of everyone's favorite former head coach! Do I even need to say his name?
Alright - enough of that. Let's talk a little bit about some "burning questions" that the Dolphins will need to answer on Sunday:
Where will the Dolphins' offense come from?
Seriously. How do the Dolphins expect to attack this Ravens defense? Consider this - despite giving up 334 yards of total offense last week to the Colts, the Ravens still rank 1st in total defense (220 ypg), 1st in rush defense (66.4 ypg) and 1st in pass defense (154.4 ypg). Yeah, the typical dominant Ravens defense is back. If you are expecting to see a defense like the one that Cleo Lemon was able to beat last year, you're in for a shock.
This game is going to be a huge test for the entire offense. Chad Pennington, the AFC's 2nd most accurate QB, will have to contest with a Ravens defense that is allowing opponents to complete just 50% of their passes. Meanwhile, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will have to deal with a rush defense that is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry, has only surrendered 1 rush of 20+ yards, and has allowed just 10 rushing first downs all season - 9 fewer than any other team has allowed.
So it's going to be very interesting to see which players step up and make plays against the best defense in the NFL.
Can the Dolphins get pressure on Joe Flacco?
If you just look at Joe Flacco's numbers, you'd be mislead and assume that he's played poorly. And I don't think that's the case. From what I've seen of him, Flacco is almost a poor man's Ben Roethlisberger. He's got the arm strength you want in a QB and actually possesses some mobility (despite being a 6'6 QB). The key, though, is to pressure Flacco early and often.
If given time, Flacco can indeed find open receivers and make plays. And unlike the Dolphin receivers, Baltimore's actually seem to get open. So the Dolphins will need to pressure Flacco early and often. Entering last week's game against the Colts, Flacco had thrown 4 interceptions in 4 games - not terrible for a rookie QB who has started since day one. Also in those 4 games, Flacco was sacked just 6 times. But last week, Flacco was sacked 4 times and pressured even more - leading to a 3 interception game. For the season, when "under pressure" Flacco is just 7 of 19 for 48 yards.
What does this all mean? It means Sunday is a big game for Joey Porter, Matt Roth, and the rest of Miami's pass rush.
Will the Fins be able to jump out to an early lead?
Despite last week's setback after having an early 14-3 lead, there's no doubt that the Dolphins are a better team when they get to play with the lead. They're 2-1 this year when leading or tied after the first quarter and are 0-2 when losing after one quarter. But even more important is the team's makeup. They just are much better suited, considering their running game and short-passing attack, to play with a lead rather than playing from behind.
The Ravens, too, are a much better team playing with a lead. An early lead for the Ravens basically allows the offense to play pressure-free while expecting the defense to shut down the opposing team's offense. However, like we saw last week when the Colts jumped out early on the Ravens, Baltimore's offense is just not suited to playing catch up. If the Dolphins could just find a way to get out to an early 10-0 lead, Miami's defense could then settle in and make it a long day for the rookie QB out of Delaware.
How will the Dolphins respond after last week's tough loss?
Sunday's game will really tell us a lot about the mental toughness of this Dolphins team. Remember the last time this team lost a game in which they were one play away from winning? It was week one against the Jets. Remember how the Dolphins responded the following week against the Cardinals? Yeah, it was ugly.
Now the Dolphins are coming off of an even more heartbreaking loss than the one against the Jets to open the season. Making it even worse is the fact that the Dolphins had gotten a taste of success by winning 2 games before suffering that disheartening loss. I'd expect a big effort from these players, to be honest, because I'm confident that Tony Sparano and his staff will have done everything they can to ensure this team is fully prepared and 100% ready to go. But the thing is - you never really know how mentally tough a team is until they go through a situation like this.
How will this particular group of players respond? We'll find out.
What impact will the "Cam Cam" factor play in Sunday's game?
This is a question that really could go either way. Perhaps Cam Cameron's knowledge of some of the players on Miami's defense - in particular, the secondary - will help him gameplan for his former team. Of course, based on what we saw last season, it might actually help the Dolphins to have Cam on the opposite sideline. After all, the Dolphin defenders who were here last year are familiar with the scheme Cam runs. And we all saw that Cameron isn't really that good of a game-planner to begin with.
Some other questions also arise when you talk about Cam Cam's return to Miami. Will Joey Porter find a way into the visiting locker room just to "say hello" to Cam? Maybe. Perhaps Porter, after every time he sacks Flacco, will whisper in Joe's ear, "Do you like failing forward fast?" Will John Beck go up to Cam and attack him for basically ruining John's career by not preparing him properly for his starts? Possibly.
One thing we know for sure is that the fans will be fired up. I hope to hear a "Cam Cam sucks" chant at some point. I'd also like to see a few "anti-Cam" signs in the crowd.
But I guess I'll just settle for a win.