Since a lot of talk this week has been devoted to Randy Moss and Miami's interest (or lack thereof) in the receiver who was available, I'm going to combine our usual "key matchups" post and "recipe for victory" post into one.
Though I haven't talked enough about this week's game against the Ravens, it's important to realize just how important this game is for the Dolphins. I wrote earlier this week that Sunday's game could be the "breakthrough" that this team has been waiting for. And I'm getting the feeling that the players in Miami's locker room are also sensing how big this game is against the Ravens.
Brandon Marshall probably summed it up best, telling the media that "this is going to be a defining moment on what type of team we’re going to be for the rest of this season."
With that said, allow me to highlight two key matchups to this week's game.
vs Ravens secondary
Just by glimpsing at the stats, you would think that Baltimore's passing defense has been among the NFL's best. They rank ninth in passing yards allowed per game and are letting opposing quarterbacks complete under 60% of their passes.
But Chad Henne made a very interesting statement on Wednesday. He was asked about the Ravens secondary and Henne responded by bringing up Ryan Fitzpatrick's performance two weeks ago against the Ravens. Said Henne:
"They gave one on one coverage out there and I think with Ed Reed back there he's floating around trying to make some plays--but there's some holes..we'll take our chances there, but, we just got to be smart with the football."
Henne is referring to Fitzpatrick's 382 yard, 4 touchdown performance in Baltimore, leading Buffalo's offense to 34 points. But the Bills haven't been the only team that's been able to throw it successfully against Baltimore's defense. In their past three games, the Ravens are allowing over 63% of their opponent's passes to be completed and surrendering 330 pass yards per game. They've also surrendered seven touchdown passes over that span.
There are some holes alright. But it'll be up to Chad Henne to find them and take advantage.
Anquan Boldin vs Vontae Davis
I love this matchup so much. It's going to tell us a lot about how Vontae is progressing here in his second season. Davis did a very good job last week against Chad Ochocinco, limiting him to only two early receptions all game long a week ago. Now Davis will likely be asked to shadow around one of the most physical receivers in the league.
Boldin, meanwhile, is putting together a solid season. The veteran is leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Joe Flacco is targeting Anquan about nine times per game, too, meaning Vontae will likely see some more action than he has in games past.
Keeping Boldin quiet will go a long way towards shutting down this Ravens offense. Not only is he ranked eighth in the league among receivers with five touchdowns - he's also tied for fourth in the league with seven receptions over 25 yards.
Without question, Vontae is in for a big test on Sunday.
KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Pressure and confuse Joe Flacco. Don't let the media hype fool you - Flacco isn't the second coming. Has he won a ton of games since being named the starter for the Ravens to start his career back in 2008? Yes. But he's also had the help of a dynamic rushing offense (that has been slowed a bit this year) and one of the most feared defenses in the league year in and year out.
Flacco, himself, isn't an elite quarterback. He's still young. He's still raw. And Mike Nolan needs to find ways to confuse Flacco. The Dolphins have to mix up coverages. They have to use various looks. They need to disguise their blitzes.
Here's a fun fact. Against blitzes this year, Flacco has been outstaniding - completing 57% of his passes, averaging over 8 yards per attempt and throwing for 7 touchdowns. But like any quarterback, his numbers take a dive when he's "under pressure" - as defined by Stats, Inc. In those situations, Flacco is completing just 35% of his passes and has a quarterback rating of only 37.3. This tells me the Dolphins have to find a way to get pressure on Flacco without rushing more than four defenders.
Paging Cameron Wake.
2. Play to win the game. I know I'm channeling my inner Herm Edwards. But you can't sit here and tell me the Dolphins have been playing aggressively to win. Instead this team, at least offensively, has been playing not to lose. That's why the Dolphins ran three straight running plays against the top rushing defense two weeks ago after forcing their second turnover in the game against the Steelers. And that's why the Dolphins ran three consecutive rushing plays - two of which were Wildcat plays - with eight minutes left and an eight point lead a week ago in Cincinnati.
If the Dolphins want to beat one of the NFL's elite teams, they have got to attack this defense consistently. Running plays, screen passes, and fullback dump-offs aren't going to get the Dolphins to 5-3. Take a page out of the Bills playbook (I can't believe I just said that) and throw the football down the field. No more max protect passing plays with only one or two guys running routes. Instead, let's see some four wide receiver sets - and maybe even some runs out of those.
The point is that the offense is scoring enough points. The Dolphins are 23rd in the league, averaging only 19 points per game. So if what you are doing isn't working, what's the logical next step?
I'm looking right at you, Dan Henning.