Without question, we are going to hear a lot this week about the week 7 matchup between the Dolphins and Ravens. The Ravens came into Miami on that Sunday in October and knocked off the Dolphins 27-13. Sure, a lot has changed for both teams since then. But let's rewind back to that game and talk about some of what happened.
Stats eerily similar; so where was the difference?
As has been pointed out already by some people on this site, the Dolphins lost by 14. But the game should have been closer. Consider some of the key stats from this game: total yards - Miami 359, Baltimore 357; yards per play - Miami 6.2; Baltimore 5.9; 3rd down conversions - Miami 5/13; Baltimore 6/13; time of possession - Miami 28:17; Baltimore 31:43.
So where exactly did the 14 point difference in score come from? Well, Chad Pennington's interception that was returned for a TD by Terrell Suggs was a major difference maker. But Pennington has gotten better every week since then and is more comfortable than ever now in this offense. If the Ravens are banking on another "free" score, they're going to be disappointed.
The other major reason for the lopsided score was Miami's redzone inefficiency. This was very uncharacteristic of the Dolphins in 2008 - as they ranked 7th in the NFL in TD% inside the redzone (60%). The Fins were just 1/4 inside the 20, having to settle instead for 2 short field goals and a turnover on downs.
The very first drive of the game set the tone. The Dolphins marched down the field - getting down to Baltimore's 15 yard line in 7 plays. But the drive would stall at the Ravens' 3 yard line. Then later in the game, following Suggs' TD, the Dolphins again marched down the field on the Ravens. This time it took just 4 plays to get to the Ravens' 11 yard line. But, yet again, the drive stalled. After an incompletion on 1st down, the Dolphins got conservative and ran the ball 2 straight times before settling for another field goal. In total, that's 6 points instead of 14. That can't happen on Sunday.
Run defense struggled in 2nd half.
The Ravens ran for 139 yards in their first meeting with the Dolphins. But a majority of that came in the 2nd half - when the Ravens simply ran the ball down Miami's throat, wore down the defense, and dominated the clock.
But you can't underestimate one key factor. The Dolphins were using Randy Starks at nose tackle - a position he had never played - for the entire 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters. Jason Ferguson was hurt in the 1st quarter and didn't return. Paul Soliai - the Dolphins' #2 NT - was suspended for the game by the team and didn't even dress. Perhaps that is why the Ravens, in the 2nd half, ran for 102 yards on 24 carries and owned the ball for over 19 minutes - limiting the Dolphins to just 10+ minutes of offense that half.
The Ravens were effective running the ball right up the middle in this game - something the Dolphins have done a good job at preventing. Generally, this season, when the Dolphins surrendered yards on the ground, it was either to the outside or a good use of misdirection by the offense. No team really had the success the Ravens had simply pounding the ball up the gut time and time again. And that's their calling card on offense in 2008. Look for the Ravens to try to do more of the same on Sunday.
Pennington was well protected and had a solid game.
As great as Baltimore's defense is - and I'm not trying to take away anything from them - they can be vulnerable to the pass. That was evident back in week 7.
Chad Pennington completed 69% of his passes against the Ravens for 295 yards and a touchdown. Of course, the costly interception was very "un-Pennington-like." But more times than not, Pennington was given enough time by his offensive line and Chad was able to find the open receiver.
I'm thinking that passing the ball will be how the Dolphins will gameplan to win on Sunday - so Pennington again needs to be on target with his passes. But this time, mistake free will be key.
Flacco was outstanding.
In their first meeting, the Dolphins made Joe Flacco - a 60% passer who threw for under 3,000 yards and had a 14:12 TD:Int ratio - look like Joe Montana. His performance in that game - 17/23, 232 yards, and a touchdown - was possibly his best performance all season. The Dolphins were unable to rattle or confuse the young rookie from Delaware.
And of those 6 incompletions, 3 were simply deep "jump-balls" that Flacco put up to let his receiver have an opportunity. So he was even better - and more accurate - than his stats showed.
Since that game, Flacco has continued to have his ups and downs. But that week 7 performance was really the springboard for the rest of the year for Flacco. The Dolphins will need better play out of the secondary and more pressure in Flacco's face on Sunday.
Final Thought from Week 7
This week 7 meeting between these 2 teams was really a turning point for the Dolphins. That loss dropped the Dolphins to 2-4 and all of the momentum they may have had from their 2 big wins over the Pats and Chargers was gone. Questions began to arise about Chad Pennington. Some wanted to see more from Chad Henne. The secondary was a joke. The defensive line could have possibly been in shambles (because we didn't know the extent of Ferguson's injury).
Since then, the Dolphins have won 9 of their last 10 and head into Sunday's rematch a completely different team. Since then, they've learned how to win tight games - a characteristic that will be useful in the playoffs.
Last week, the Dolphins beat another team that they lost to at home earlier in the year. There's no reason why it can't happen again!