Happy New Year, everybody! Hope you all have a happy and healthy 2009!
But there's business to tend to now. Like Tony Sparano, holidays don't ruin our focus here, either. So let's get right to the burning questions for this Sunday's Wild Card game between the Dolphins and Ravens.
How effective can the 'Wildcat' and the Dolphins' ground game be?
This is one of the key questions for Sunday's game. Back in week 17, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs combined for just 46 yards rushing on 18 carries. That's not acceptable. This was also the first game that really saw the Wildcat formation get shut down - gaining just 4 yards on 5 attempts. So on Miami's 13 other running plays, the Fins gained 42 yards - 3.2 yards per carry.
The problem last time, though, was that the Dolphins were trying to run - especially with the Wildcat - to the outside of Baltimore's defense. That's not how you attack this Baltimore defense - a smart, aggressive, and most importantly, fast defense. They can cover track down ball carriers sideline to sideline as good as or better than any defense I've watched in the last 10 years. So running those Wildcat handoffs to Ricky Williams and having him run "east and west" rather than "north and south" is a bad idea.
Instead, the Dolphins need to use a power running game. They need to pound Ronnie, Ricky, Patrick, and Lousaka between the tackles. Yes, this Raven defense is damn good against the run. But you can't abandon the run altogether. Keep it simple and run right at them. Challenge them. Don't play to their strength and try to get the edge on the outside. That won't work.
Also - it'll be interesting to see if the Wildcat gets used at all. I think using it as a way to get Ronnie the ball quicker and find a hole between the tackles is not a bad idea. If nothing else, it'll force the Ravens to respect the run up the middle out of that Wildcat - possibly setting them up for some trickery out of the formation. After all, they could be susceptible to biting and falling for a pass out of the Wildcat. The Ravens are fast and aggressive and could get caught out of position if they over-pursue.
Can the Dolphins contain Baltimore's ground attack?
It's no secret that running the ball is what the Ravens want to do. Their 37 rush attempts per game average was tops in the entire league this year and their 148.5 yards per game average was good for 4th in the league.
What makes Baltimore so good at what they do is that they have 3 running backs who are good at what they do - each with their own style. Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice each ran for over 450 yards this year. Back in week 7, it was McGahee who did the majority of Baltimore's damage on the ground, running for 105 yards on just 19 carries.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, have been up and down against the run this year. Just last week against the Jets, the Fins held the AFC's leading rusher, Thomas Jones, to just 23 yards on 10 carries. But just the week before, the Dolphins surrendered 180 rushing yards to the Chiefs on just 21 carries. Of course, they were without Channing Crowder that game.
On the season, the Dolphins ranked 10th in the league, allowing 101.2 yards per game on the ground. But here are a couple interesting numbers. When the Dolphins hold opponents under 100 yards rushing, they are 6-1 this year. When they hold them under 120 yards, they are 8-3. On the flip side, the Ravens are 1-3 when being held under 120 yards on the ground - but were only held under 100 yards once (a loss to Indianapolis).
So as you can see, the Dolphins' defensive success will depend on how well they stop the run.
Which Dolphin will step up in the passing game?
Trivia question: which team was able to gain the most yards through the air on the Ravens' defense? The Miami Dolphins, of course.
That's right - the Dolphins' 288 net passing yards was the most Baltimore surrendered all season; and it was over 100 yards more than their 2008 per game average. But the Dolphins two leading receivers in that game were Greg Camarillo and David Martin, who combined for 10 catches and 145 yards receiving. Camarillo has since been placed on IR and Martin's status for Sunday is in question after leaving last week's game early with what appeared to be a concussion.
Luckily for the Dolphins, it seems like a different player has stepped up in the passing game all year long on any given Sunday. Last week, Ted Ginn led the team in receiving yards. The week before was Davone Bess. And the week before that was David Martin.
Even in game, different players have arisen to make critical plays. Anthony Fasano has a knack for doing so. As do all 3 running backs. And even Brandon London was getting in the act last week, making a key lunging 3rd down grab.
So who's it going to be this week?
Will home field truly be an advantage?
So here's what I know. The last time the Dolphins made the playoffs, they hosted the Ravens. That was back in 2001. As we all know, the Dolphins lost by 17 that day.
But more importantly, that game didn't even sell out - if I recall correctly. And if it did, the sellout occurred very close to gameday. Now I know that Sunday's game is technically "sold out." But tickets still remain both on the "club level" as well as through various ticket brokers and outlets. That means seats are still going to be empty if these tickets aren't bought.
That can't happen! The Dolphins need your help. They need that stadium to be rocking. They need your energy; your passion.
And if you think the noise doesn't make a difference, you're wrong. The last time the Dolphins took the field at Dolphin Stadium, 49ers QB Shaun Hill was unable to hear the play being called into his helmet from the offensive coordinator. That's how loud it was; and that makes a difference.
That's all I got for now.
Tell us all what you think. What questions are you pondering as we approach Sunday's game?