Well that was a pretty alright start, right?
It wasn't always totally smooth, especially in the opening minutes, but that was about as enjoyable a head coaching debut as we've seen in quite a long time. Not only the first debut win by a permanent Dolphins HC since 2005, but there was a nice amount of evidence that this is going to be a really fun team to watch. Seeing it ground the Patriots into a pathetic, 7-point performance? There are no words. Just feelings of euphoria.
As far as my prediction last week, I optimistically called for a 31-17 Dolphins win. While I was clearly over-estimating both teams' ability to move the ball and score points, I at least had the margin of victory nearly dead on. I also feel that my reasoning bore out: the Pats would prove to be capable and workman-like, but would be outgunned by the several elite-level players that the Fins boast on both sides of the ball. Big plays were all the difference in this one, and it was a joy to watch.
As fun as it would be to keep doing victory laps, a tough test awaits in week 2.
Baltimore Ravens' Last Week
Once we get to week 3, I'll be looking at the Fins opponents' previous two games. For now, we're limited to last week.
In week 1, the Ravens rolled into the Meadowlands and made sure to keep the New York Jets right where they've been for years now: on the ground, with their faces being pushed into a warm pool of putrid, Jersey swamp mud.
I watched the condensed version of this game, and it didn't take long to sense which team was superior. While the score was an unspectacular 10-3 with 8 minutes left in the third, it was pretty obvious which team was going to win. Curiously, more than the Ravens looking phenomenal, it was that the Jets shot themselves in the feet repeatedly. The Jets actually moved the ball better, racking up 380 total yards, compared to Baltimore's paltry 274 yards. The Jets won the time of possession too, controlling the ball for 32 and a half minutes. New York also had way more first downs, with 24 to the Ravens' 13.
So how did the Jets lose so badly? Two of the biggest reasons were the same reasons that hapless teams lose so many games: turnovers and penalties. The Jets had an interception and a lost fumble, both while the game was still close. The Ravens' one turnover was late in the game, when the outcome was well determined. Although the teams were close in number of penalties, with Baltimore at five and New York at six, the Jets penalties were far more costly. To the tune of 81 yards, to be exact. The Ravens' penalties only cost them 29 yards. Lack of precision and discipline is absolutely lethal in the NFL, unless you are a supremely talented team that can overcome multiple gaffes. And news flash: the Jets aren't one of those teams.
On top of being the sloppy drunk adversary of this street fight, the Ravens just had the Jets outgunned. Lamar Jackson and a couple of speedy receivers were enough to produce a few chunk plays that the Jets simply had zero answer for. Joe Flacco is still very much Joe Flacco, just a little older. As much as ever, he's not a guy who can oversee a comeback against an opponent that can produce a few explosive plays. The Jets defense actually looked fairly stout in the middle, surrendering a mere 63 yards on 21 carries by Baltimore, but Lamar Jackson the the Ravens offense eventually found the safety valve of abusing a discombobulated Jets secondary. Most of Baltimore's bigger plays came on horrifically busted coverage where no Jets DB was within five yards of their man.
All this is to say that while a win is never a gimme in the NFL, one can only tell so much in a week 1 win over a team like the Jets. How do the Ravens stack up against the Dolphins?
Dolphins vs. Ravens: A Mostly Painful History
We all know how this matchup has gone over the last decade-plus. The Ravens have owned the Fins about as thoroughly as any team. In their 10 meetings since 2008, including their one playoff tilt, the Dolphins are 2-8. This has included some absolutely humiliating defeats. Alas, the Fins actually played against type last season and pulled a stunner in a Thursday Night Football victory over the injury-plagued Ravens. Using all-out zero blitzes, the Fins defense utterly flummoxed Lamar Jackson and the B-More offense, and the defense produced a few big plays to come away with the 22-10 win. It was arguably the high point in a 2021 season that had very few of them.
This season, I don't see this matchup following the 2021 script. The teams are in somewhat different places, and some key personnel has changed. But will it be the same outcome?
Dolphins Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Both units are dealing with some injuries, but this is arguably where the Dolphins will benefit more from them. Last week, a healthy Ravens defense didn't exactly look vintage against a below-average Jets offense with Joe Flacco at the helm. The Jets do have a few nice offensive skill players, but there's wide receiver there on the level of Tyreek Hill or Jalen Waddle. The Jets also don't have as talented a running back room as the Fins. Add in that two of the Ravens' starting CBs were injured and very limited in practice this week - Peters and Humphrey - and it looks like Tua and the pass-catchers should be able to move the ball fairly well. Having Austin Jackson out at right tackle hurts, but I don't think the drop-off to Greg Little will be terribly steep. The Ravens defense is still likely to be good this year, but given its early season rust and injuries, the Dolphins have the advantage here.
Dolphins Defense vs. Ravens Offense
The Fins defense came out looking a little slow in the opening series against the Pats last week. Once that was done, though, they thoroughly dominated Belichick's conservative offense. Evil Little Bill went back to his trusty well of "running game, conservative passes" to see if he could once again bait a new young head coach into getting impatient and panicky, but Mike McDaniel didn't bite. More importantly, Josh Boyer oversaw a dominant performance by a defense that has a lot of continuity from last year and looks ready to prove that last year's second-half success was a lot more than just zero blitzes against weak offenses. The one area that they were notably weak last year (last decade-plus, if we're honest) was over the middle, especially to tight ends. Well, the talented Patriots TE duo of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry ended that game with a whopping combined 5 receptions for 53 yards.
The Ravens are no slouch on offense, and they're definitely better than the Patriots. However, they don't have a frightening receivers room, and their starting RB J.K. Dobbins is still coming back from a nasty injury over a year ago. He didn't play at all last week, and is still listed a "Questionable" against Miami. If he does come back, it's hard to envision him looking like the threat he was before the injury. At least, not in his first game back on the field.
All that said, the great equalizer in purple is one Lamar Jackson. While not without a flaw or two, Jackson is infinitely more dangerous than Mac Jones. At any moment in any game, he can drop a pinpoint, 60-yard TD bomb on you. Or he can break off a massive chunk run with his speed and agility. These elite skills alone are basically what made the second half against the Jets such a lopsided affair in Baltimore's favor. On thing in Miami's favor, though, is that the Jets don't have nearly as talented a defensive backfield as the Fins, which should help limit those big plays that Lamar has up his sleeve.
I call this one an ever-so-slight Dolphins advantage. After that rough opening series against New England, the Dolphins D looked fast, smart, and able to keep up with most of what the Ravens can throw at them. Getting to the elusive Jackson will be far tougher than Mac "Tree Sloth" Jones, but they have the team speed to force him into a bad throw or two.
Coaching and Other Facets
I think we're all loving what we're seeing from our new head coach, Mike McDaniel. Hard to find any faults in what he's done in pre-season or what he did in the opening game. Still, he's a tad too green to say he's a better head coach that John Harbaugh, a proven winner over a long span of time in the NFL. But like last week, if Harbaugh is the better coach I don't think it's by a scary margin.
Special teams is an area where both teams excel. The Fins have Jason $anders looking like his Pro Bowl self again, but the Ravens of course have the greatest place kicker in the history of the game in Justin Tucker. Both teams are good to great in all other areas of the special teams game, though the Dolphins might actually have the better punter now, if Thomas Morstead's game 1 was anything to by. The Ravens can counter with elite returner Devin Duvernay, but I think our punt and kick teams are skilled and disciplined enough to limit his chances as much as possible. I call this one a push.
In terms of injuries, both teams are dealing with losses of key starters or guys who are coming into this game at least a little gimpy. Most obvious for the Fins are right tackle Austin Jackson and cornerback Byron Jones, while I already mentioned the Ravens' notable injury issues. There are also a smattering of injuries to other rotational players for both squads, so I think this is another area where it's about even.
The game is in Baltimore, their home opener. This is likely to have an impact, with a B-More fanbase ready to bring the energy. Fortunately, this Dolphins team has shown in recent years to do pretty well on the road. Advantage Baltimore, but again not by a huge margin.
Final Analysis and Prediction
This one is going to be tight. I can very easily see neither team ever getting up by more than a single score, and it all coming down to the final minutes. Given the injury situation and the Fins' talent on offense, though, I'm giving our guys a slight nod here.
Dolphins 27, Ravens 24.
Yep - I'm calling for our guys to start 2-0 for the first time since 2018 (just don't think too hard about how the rest of that year shook out).
I'll keep track of my predictions and the outcomes every week, to see how I fare:
So how do you feel about tomorrow's game? Do our guys continue to exorcise the Baltimore demons, or do we fall prey to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' big-play offense? Let me know in the comments, and Fins Up!