Kevin Nogle, The Phinsider (KN): Let's start with the big question of this week: What do the Baltimore Ravens do to make up for the PED suspension to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata? Who fills in for him, and what kind of changes should we expect in how the defense plays?
Matthew Stevens, Baltimore Beatdown (MS): Haloti Ngata was a large part of the defensive line and will definitely be missed. He was able to get pressure as a defensive lineman and clog up the middle to help the run defense. At this point, it looks like Timmy Jernigan is going to be filling in for him. As a rookie, we've seen some brilliant flashes for Jernigan this season but the question mark around him right now is more about how consistent he can be with a major increase in his snap count. Honestly, the Ravens run defense has been one of the best in the league this season while the pass defense has been one of the worst, so I can't really see Miami trying to test the run game as much as people would expect and I think Jernigan does a solid job filling in with very little ultimately changing.
KN: Joe Flacco always seems to be in that second tier of quarterbacks, just behind the group of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. But, it also seems like Flacco's biggest weakness is consistency - exactly the same issue Miami Dolphins fans are seeing out of Ryan Tannehill this season. Flacco seems to be on a hot streak right now, having surpassed 100 passer rating the last two games, and about 89 in the last four. What's been the difference over these past four weeks for Flacco, and are fans comfortable with how Flacco is playing, or are you all waiting for the 50 passer rating game?
MS: Flacco is a weird quarterback like you mentioned. Consistency has been his biggest issue as he can torch a defense one week for five touchdowns and then go into the next throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. I think something that Ravens fans have known is that Flacco doesn't have the same weapons as guys like Brady, Brees or Manning does and that is one of the reasons that Flacco's game fluctuates so much. He still has those moments where you scratch your head and wonder why he threw that, but with more consistent weapons around him this season, he is having one of his best years in his career. Combine the improved receiving unit with a much better play caller in Gary Kubiak and it can be a lot easier to see why Flacco was so up and down before and why he is doing much better this year.
KN: Things could get ugly for the Dolphins this week, after being gashed early and often by the Denver Broncos and New York Jets rushing games the past two weeks. While the offense has been able to respond and keep Miami in both games, including winning last week, they will now be facing the fifth-ranked rush offense in the league in the Ravens. What has made Baltimore's running game so successful this year? Is it the line? Is it Justin Forsett suddenly breaking out? What does Miami need to do to slow down the ground attack?
MS: Baltimore is fifth simply because they don't run as much as they could and should at times. This is a team that could really run it nearly every play and still gain a good number of yards per carry. The resurgence in Baltimore's run game has to do with the line being far better than last year as well as Gary Kubiak's scheme. Justin Forsett fits in nicely because of having been in this type of system before in addition to his talent at running it. The Ravens will definitely look to continue their streak of rushing it well and I would expect that the Ravens will actually be able to succeed simply by pushing around Miami's defensive line. The only thing that can really help Miami is if they concentrate on putting more guys in the box and can run blitz after recognizing where the ball is going.
KN: Baltimore has allowed the second fewest sacks in the league this year, with just 15 allowed, while Miami is seventh in the league in sacking opposing quarterbacks. This appears to be set up to be a battle of strength versus strength. Is there a weak spot on the Baltimore offensive line that Miami can expose?
MS: The offensive line is much better at run blocking but as you mentioned, they are doing exceptionally well with blocking for Joe Flacco. To his credit, Flacco is a lot harder to bring down than a lot of other quarterbacks and he has some surprising mobility when he needs to. So even getting in doesn't guarantee a sack a good portion of the time. However, if Miami is going to do anything, it will be through delayed blitzes at the A gap or an edge rusher facing left tackle Eugene Monroe. Monroe is doing well, but has faltered at times so he is the weak link at this point in the season with this offensive line.
KN: Ryan Tannehill is turning into the quarterback Miami needs to finally solidify the position, 15 years after Dan Marino retired. He has gotten better as the year has progressed, and has now had a completion percentage over 70 the last five games. If there is a weakness to the Ravens' defense, it seems to be the secondary. Will Tannehill be able to attack the Ravens through the air this weekend?
MS: The question really shouldn't be if Tannehill can attack this secondary, is should be how much damage he can do. Mike Wallace will surely be double covered, but with this secondary, he'll still get more than enough yards. After that, it will be whoever can do a good job finding the massive holes in the zone coverage and then can find Matt Elam so he can miss the tackle allowing the receiver to go for another 10 yards. But in all seriousness, Tannehill will probably have one of the better games of the season from a statistical standpoint if the Ravens can't get to him often enough. If the Ravens can get pressure often, Tannehill will probably make a few mistakes simply by anticipating the rush coming at him. The Ravens will need to do a good job of covering Lamar Miller out of the backfield to eliminate the quick release valve for Tannehill though.
A big thanks to Matthew for taking the time to answer our questions. The Ravens and Dolphins kickoff this afternoon at 1pm in Miami's Sun Life Stadium. Check out Baltimore Beatdown for more on the Ravens.