Dolphins vs Ravens: A Quick Primer

Can you believe that we are just two days away from the Dolphins' first playoff game in 7 years?  If you're like me, you're now getting to the point where it's hard to even function every day because all your mind is thinking about is this game.

So let's talk some more about...this game.

THE PAST

So it's been 7 years since the Dolphins were in the playoffs.  An d their last playoff game?  It was at home against the Ravens.  The Dolphins had just won the division, going 11-5.  The Ravens again got into the playoffs via the wildcard.  The Dolphins took a 3-0 lead into the 2nd quarter - at which point the Ravens took over control of the game.  Terry Allen ran for 109 yards and a touchdown to lead the Ravens to a 20-3 win in Miami.

Then, of course, there's last year's infamous meeting between these two teams - when Cam Cameron and the Dolphins won their only game of 2007 thanks to Greg Camarillo's TD catch and run in overtime.  Now, though, '07 is a distant memory and Cam Cam is now running the offense in Baltimore.  And despite that, the Ravens somehow managed to make the playoffs.  Who would of thought?

KEY MATCH-UP:  NT Jason Ferguson vs C Jason Brown

The last time the Dolphins and Ravens met, back in week 7, the Ravens dominated on the ground, rushing for 139 yards en route to a two touchdown win in Miami.  But the one critical thing to remember is how Jason Ferguson left the game in the first quarter with an injury and didn't return.  Meanwhile, backup NT Paul Soliai was suspended.  So Randy Starks was forced to play the nose - a position he had never played in the past.  And the Ravens took advantage, running the ball down Miami's throat in the 2nd half.

But Ferguson is healthy and ready to play this week.  He's been the main reason for Miami's improved rush defense in 2008 and is the key cog to Miami's 3-4 defense.  On Sunday, he'll match up with Ravens center Jason Brown.  Brown, if you can believe it, is actually bigger than Ferguson, weighing in at 320 pounds.  And the Ravens love to run behind the big guy.

In 2008, the Ravens have run 54% of their running plays up the middle - which is the 8th highest percentage among all NFL teams.  Running behind Brown is also how the Ravens have the most success, gaining 4.4 "adjusted line yards" per carry running behind the big guy.

(FYI - "adjusted line yards" is explained at Football Outsiders)

Meanwhile, for the Dolphins, up the middle has been where they are most vulnerable.  They allow 4.41 "adjusted line yards" per carry up the gut.  No doubt, the Ravens are aware of this.

But if Ferguson can do his job and not only occupy Jason Brown but also one of Baltimore's two guards, he will free up Channing Crowder and company to make plays in run support.  If Ferguson loses at the point of attack, however, it could be a long day for Miami's defense.

2 KEYS TO THE GAME

Be efficient offensively.
In their last meeting, the Dolphins were uncharacteristically inefficient on offense.  Chad Pennington threw a bad interception that was returned for a touchdown.  He also missed some open receivers, including an inaccurate throw to Anthony Fasano that would have been a touchdown.

The Fins were also just 1/4 in the redzone - which is well below their 60% rate of success in the redzone.  The Dolphins left at least 8 points on the field last meeting by settling for 2 field goals rather than punching it into the endzone for 7.  The Dolphins simply can't afford to settle for 3 inside the redzone this time.  The Ravens are too good for that.

Limiting turnovers is also key.  The Fins can't afford to turn the ball over and give the Ravens good field position.  I'm not too impressed with Baltimore's offense.  There's no need to make things easier for them by giving them good field position.  The Dolphins must win the battle of field position.

Get an early lead.
This seems like a no-brainer.  We all know that getting out to an early lead is important.  It's especially important for the Dolphins because they don't have an explosive offense that can overcome deficits.

But the key stat is actually on the Ravens' side of things.  Sure, they are 1-2 this year when losing at halftime.  But what's startling is how much poorer Joe Flacco plays at QB when his team is trailing.  When playing from behind, the rookie QB seems to take too many chances, throwing just 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions on 126 pass attempts.  That's an interception rate of 5.5% when trailing, as opposed to his 1.1% interception rate when playing with the lead.


Thoughts below....

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