The Miami Dolphins started a three-week gauntlet of matchups against playoff teams last week with a win over the Dallas Cowboys. This week, the schedule moves on to the Baltimore Ravens. Miami and Baltimore somehow seem to face off each season, turning this inter-divisional game into a rivalry game - especially this year as the AFC playoff picture’s top seed could be decided by this game.
The Dolphins beat the Ravens last year, coming away with the 42-38 victory in Baltimore. Miami also won in the 2021 matchup between the clubs, ending a streak of three-straight losses to the Ravens. Before the last two Dolphins wins, Miami had only won twice in the last eleven meetings, including a playoff contest.
Miami and Baltimore first faced off in 1997, the second year of the Ravens’ franchise. In the 28 seasons played by Baltimore, the Dolphins and Ravens have faced each other 16 times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. Since 2013, they have played every year except 2018 and 2020, and they will continue to play, assuming both teams finish in the same position in their respective divisions this year, through at least the 2025 season. The regular season series is tied 8-8, though the Ravens have the postseason advantage, winning both contests.
These are two teams that somehow know each other extremely well, despite not being division rivals. But, there are always new things to learn. For the 2023 edition of the Ravens vs. Dolphins contest, I turned to Baltimore Beatdown for a closer look at the Ravens. Kyle Phoenix was kind enough to sit down with me to answer my Ravens questions.
You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:
The Ravens moved on from Greg Roman as their offensive coordinator this year, replacing him with Todd Monken. I feel like Monken’s reputation had expectations of an explosive passing offense, but the Ravens are 21st in passing offense, while leading the league in rushing offense. It is not exactly like they are struggling, ranked fifth overall, but it always takes some time to adjust to a new system - offensive or defensive. How has the offense evolved under Monken, and where does it still need time?
Yes, Monken’s offense was expected to be some high-flying, aerial assault. But, with Head Coach John Harbaugh at the helm, this team was never going to stop running the football. Especially when the star quarterback generates enough attention to make a black hole envious. By virtue of Jackson’s ability, defenses have to account for him, which adds at least a 0.5-yards per carry difference in the run game. This team was never going to stop running the football. It’s a Harbaugh team. It’s an AFC North team. It’s Baltimore football.
That all said, your point remains. This offense was expected to be more pass-centric, or at least balanced. And while they have been, there’s great room for improvement. They’ve made strides, but there needs to be more.
Part of it is the lack of chemistry with wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Lamar Jackson. Bateman’s a first-round receiver who is averaging 2.0 yards per game, even though he’s open on far more. He and Jackson never seem to get on the same page. They did last year against the Dolphins, and that’s the hope for Sunday and moving forward.
The red zone differences are what was a much larger factor in adding Monken over Roman. The Ravens touchdown percentage in the red zone last season was a paltry 44.4%. This season, they’re now posting touchdowns at a 59.6% rate. This spike has led to significant gains. They’ve run the ball in the red zone, something Roman would cease to do for no reason at all when they got inside the 20-, or the 10-yard line. It was bewildering at times, as Roman would run it everywhere else.
In sum, the passing offense has made strides. Jackson’s set a new personal best for passing yards, and did so before Week 17. But there is more juice to be squeezed from this unit and it’s up to Monken and the offense to unlock it before or during the postseason, not after.
Losing tight end Mark Andrews could have been a massive issue for the Baltimore offense, but wide receiver Zay Flowers has stepped up. How have the Ravens used the first-round draft pick and what has worked to slow him down?
Flowers is special, plain and simple. He understands leverage, change of direction, change of speed and has an undying competitive nature that is such an admirable quality. For that, he spiked to being Jackson’s favorite target this season. His usage is in shorter routes where he can get a step on defenders quickly, get the ball out of Jackson’s hands quick and make a defender miss. His YAC (352 yards) account for 47% of his total yardage (752 yards), and a big factor in that is his elusiveness. It’s rare to see Flowers taken down from the first tackler. He’s shifty, strong and dense.
I know this sounds like one big guzzling purple kool-aid piece, but the Ravens finally landed a real-deal first-round receiver and it’s something special, as the Ravens have struggled to land a guy like this for years.
Stopping Flowers would likely be impacting timing routes with Jackson and Flowers, combined with keeping Jackson from sliding out. They have a solid connection on scramble drills and extending plays.
The Ravens’ defense is still the Ravens’ defense and can punish an opposing offense seemingly at will. They have the league lead in sacks (54, two more than the second-place Dolphins) and are tied for the league lead with a +10 turnover ratio. What is working so well for the Ravens defense and how can the Dolphins attack it?
The Ravens defense is something to behold this season. They’ve allowed only 20 touchdowns, which is two fewer than what the 1985 Bears defense allowed. That’s how good they are.
It’s tough to designate one area they’re struggling extensively, but the latest injuries could be where they hurt most. Safety Kyle Hamilton is the key cog in this defense, I’d argue. He’s the most valuable guy. He lines up everywhere, he goes up against any style of receiver and wins most of his matchups. He also is a violent hitter in the run game, sheds blocks well and gets after quarterbacks, too.
But, Hamilton’s dealing with a knee injury, something he was dealing with prior to the 49ers game that he reaggravated. He practiced on Thursday, but was noticeably limited. Another guy that is in question is cornerback Brandon Stephens, the No.2 corner on this defense and has had a breakout year. If the Ravens are down their star safety and depth at cornerback, suddenly this is a highly problematic game for the Ravens going against the Dolphins offense, which lacks mercy against secondaries.
The pass rush is a trio of stars combined with added pressure from everywhere else, much like the Dolphins in some ways. There are three big-name guys with many more adding in. Those three are defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy. These three have shown the ability to play four quarters of rushing the passer, something that was worth asking for the latter two. The veterans still have the juice, particularly Clowney, who seems to gain strength and speed in the final quarter. Of his 8.5 sacks this season, six have come in the final frame, and it’s not due to garbage time, I’d argue.
Getting the ball out quick is the primary way to attack, which is something the Dolphins are good at. Another would be the run game. The Ravens haven’t been consistent in slowing down rushers. The left side at times has been where they struggle, curiously. It happens mostly in the first quarter. So, watch for running back Raheem Mostert and Co. to try and pick holes in the run game on Sunday.
Speaking of Kyle Van Noy, the former Dolphins linebacker has found a perfect fit for himself with the Ravens this year, starting on the practice squad before being signed to the 53-man roster a few days later. He has a career-high seven sacks this season, despite only playing 12 games with three starts. What has he brought to the Ravens defense? Why is he finding so much success?
Van Noy has been a perfect compliment to this defense. He’s a veteran and experienced, sharing such with the rest of the defense, but also, he just knows how to make plays. It’s clear he just wanted to come into a good situation and the Ravens had one brewing with Clowney, Odafe Oweh and Madubuike. They needed that last outside backer to make it a solid front and he has done so.
The Ravens and Dolphins meet so often, this feels like a division rivalry without the teams being in the same division. That said, there are always new players and breakout stars on a team every year. Who are players on the Ravens offense and defense who have surprised this season and Dolphins fans should be watching for them on Sunday?
Obviously, watch for Flowers. Another guy to key in on is tight end Isaiah Likely. Since losing Andrews, the Ravens No. 2 tight end has posted 17 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a prototypical pass-catching tight end that put in a lot of work this offseason to improve as a blocker, something the Ravens demand of their tight ends. He’s done an excellent job.
If Stephens is out there on Sunday, watch for him. He struggled against the Dolphins defense last year, but I think he wants another go at it and will improve. He’s much improved in coverage and his physical traits are highly respected in the locker room. He has strength and loves physicality, but his speed is some of the best on the team. If not him, watch Madubuike. He tied the NFL record for consecutive games with a half sack, with 11. The 49ers game on Monday was the first time he hadn’t notched a half-sack or more in 11 straight games.
I am actually surprised, especially after that performance against the San Francisco 49ers last week, that, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Ravens are only three-point favorites in this game, essentially picking up the home-field advantage but nothing more.
I think the Dolphins pose a real threat, and I’m uneasy about this game. That offense is real-deal, and the defense has been playing some of the best football since Week 8. Though they haven’t been as solid on the road and they’ve struggled against “contenders,” this is for the No. 1 seed. The Ravens are ready, but I’ll bet McDaniel has his Dolphins equally prepared. This will be a close one that ends with, hopefully, a Justin Tucker game-winner.