And here come of the Ravens. Just a touch of history regarding the Fins versus the Baltimore Ravens. Those of us over, say, 25 or 26 recall how the 2007 Dolphins got their one and only win against the Ravens in overtime of the 14th game of the season, when they looked for all the world like they were going to be the first NFL team to ever go 0-16. The Cleo Lemon-to-Greg Camarillo connection was a huge sigh of relief in an otherwise lost season.
Since that win, the Dolphins have gone 1-9 against Baltimore, with the tables tilting more and more in the Ravens' favor over time. Up through 2015, despite nearly always losing, the games were usually somewhat competitive. Then we get to 2016, when Adam Gase's smoke-and-mirrors squad got a look at a real contender, getting pummeled by the Joe Flacco-led Ravens, 38-6. In 2017, Gase's squad "redeemed" itself by completely melting down on Thursday Night Football. Not only did they lose 40-0, but they lost every ounce of cool they had, racking up infinite stupid penalties, including a vicious cheap shot from Kiko Alonso on Joe Flacco. And most recently, we had Brian Flores' inaugural game as a head coach in 2019, when our practice squad roster became fodder for the Lamar Jackson coming out party. Jackson went full video game mode, leading Baltimore to a 59-10 victory.
So if you're keeping score, the three most recent games against Baltimore have been three losses, to the tune of being outscored 137-16. These aren't football games. These are executions.
But it's a new, different season, right?
The Tale of the Tape
At this point, the Dolphins aren't atrocious in every key aspect of the game. Just most of them. They've gotten a tad better in gaining yards through the air, but they're still a bottom-10 in the NFL there. And the run game somehow just keeps getting worse. The defensive numbers are trending in the right direction, too, though the overall averages still aren't great.
Baltimore's numbers reveal that they are a perfect example of how a team can mask some real deficiencies by having a few clear-cut strengths. And really, that primary strength is Lamar Jackson. Thanks to Jackson's running and passing abilities, the Ravens offense is a beast to contain, especially on the ground. Baltimore's defense isn't as terrifying as it once was, but it certainly does enough to hold onto the leads that the offense often gives it.
As far as the "hidden yards," the two teams are pretty similar in the net turnovers category, while the Dolphins prove to be a fair bit more disciplined in terms of penalties. Coaching? It's Harbaugh, hands down.
Closer Look at the Ravens
I wasn't able to watch the Ravens game against the Bengals three weeks ago, but all recaps indicate that it was a rare bloodbath loss for Harbaugh's squad. The thing is, it didn't go down the massacre route until late in the 3rd quarter. The Bengals clung to a 20-17 lead in the middle of the 3rd, but then released the kraken. First, it was an 82-yard TD bomb to Ja'Marr Chase with under six minutes left in the 3rd. Then, with 9:24 left in the game, Joe Mixon found the end zone on a 21-yard dash. Cincinnati then kicked the dead horse with 6:59 left with a 46-yard TD run from Samaje Perine. Final score: Bengals 41, Ravens 17. It was the worst defensive performance of the season from a Baltimore team that's actually had several poor showings.
The Ravens then had a bye week to think about what they'd done before seeking redemption against the Minnesota Vikings, a truly bizarre team that can always play up or down to any opponent.
Well, the Vikings did just that yet again, pushing the Ravens all the way into overtime. In fact, the Vikings had a 14-point lead at two separate times: up 17-3 shortly before the half, and later 24-10 a little ways into the second half. Alas, Baltimore then churned out 21 unanswered points to go up 31-24 with only three and a half minutes left. But the Vikings and Kirk Cousins being that annoying gnat circling your ear, they punched in a tying score just before the end of regulation. Overtime gets going, the Ravens steadily move into Minnesota territory, but then gift the Vikes an interception. With a chance to win the game by just moving the ball about 25 to 30 yards, Minnesota reverts to type and goes three-and-out. That's all the Ravens needed, putting together a 10-play, 72-yard drive to get well within "gimme range" for Justin Tucker. Field goal made. Game over. Ultimately, Lamar Jackson didn't have a great game throwing the ball, but it didn't matter. The Human Joystick ran the ball 21 times for 120 yards, accounting for nearly half of Baltimore's absurd 247 ground yards on 45 carries (5.5 yards per).
Ravens versus Dolphins
The Ravens defense hasn't been anything like the legendary defenses of their 21st century past. They're not awful by any means, but they're good enough to contain most opponents. Their pass defense is the second worst in the NFL in terms of yards surrendered, but part of this is because teams are often forced to air it out in a desperate attempt to catch up. This also partially explains Baltimore's defense giving up a league 5th-best in yards on the ground per game - teams aren't bothering to run against them when they're down two or more scores for most of the game. A competent offense can actually move the ball and score against them, but the Dolphins offense is anything but competent. And if it's Brissett under center again? Yikes.
It's actually been somewhat heartening to see how Miami's defense has looked like its 2020 self in the past two weeks. Against a formidable Bills offense and an admittedly pathetic Houston offense, we saw the defense that we had hoped to see from season's beginning. It's ridiculous that it took nearly two months to get back to where they were, but it is something that's nice to see. All that said, I just don't see how they contain Jackson enough for our stumble bum offense to outscore Baltimore. Even if they limit Jackson as a passer (which I think is actually possible), I can't see how they limit what he can do with his legs. Jackson's arguably worst game of the year was against the Chargers, and the Ravens won that game 34-6. What is that team going to do to the 2021 Miami Dolphins?
Prediction: Brissett starts: Dolphins 13, Ravens 27; Tua starts: Dolphins 23, Ravens 27
I think this is one where our Dolphins redeem themselves. And by "redeem themselves," I mean that they don't lose by 30-plus points. I still have seen nothing from our offensive coaches that suggests that they have any idea how to develop an offensive line. I have also seen nothing that suggests that Jacoby Brissett can come close to hanging with Lamar Jackson. Either way, I think our defense keeps the score from being the utter humiliations that the last three meetings have been.
Let me know what you think we're in store for in the comments. Fins up!