Ravens @ Dolphins

The Baltimore Ravens travel to Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins in a battle of teams with 2-3 records. At the beginning of this season, you probably wouldn't expect either of these teams to have won twice already, with the Ravens having low expectations with a rookie QB and Dolphins having only won one game all of last season. Now we have two teams that are actually both disappointed to ONLY have two victories so far in 2008. The Ravens had leads late in two of their three loses and the Dolphins lost last week at the end of the game after seemingly having won it just moments earier.

So now we get to see which of these two are going to rebound and even their record at 3-3, while the other falls further into the basement of the AFC. The Ravens embarassed themselves last season when they failed to have the spine to go for the game winning TD with seconds on the clock in regulation and the ball on the six inch line. Former coach Brian Billick must have thought he was saving his own job by wimping out and going for the tying FG. Me, I wuld have told the Dolphins we're running it up the middle and may the best team win. Perhaps that's just one reason neither one of us is coaching the Ravens right now. At least I still have a chance!

This game boils down to what the Ravens can or cannot do offensively in this game. As they did in both their losses, they left it to the defense to try to keep the other teams from scoring and going ahead, while offensively they played not to lose, rather than try to score and put the game away. If they continue to try this approach, they will once again leave Miami disappointed and their fans (with me among them in attendance) frustrated as well.

The offense needs to come up with and stick to the gameplan for a full sixty minutes. Do not change it when we have the lead, nor abandon it as soon as we fall behind. The Ravens' strong point has been and continues to be their running game. Whether it be an ailing Willis McGahee or the pounding of fullback turned battering ram running back Le' Ron McClain, who can set up in the Ravens' "Big" package behind bruising fullback Lorenzo Neal, the Ravens will need to establish dominance along the offensive line and push the Dolphins' defenders backwards until they begin to wear down late in the game. Throwing when necessary rather than to set up the run will just not work with the personnel we have in the passing game. Our receivers, other than Demetrius Williams, all catch the ball with their backs to the goal line, so much so that I am beginning to tire of writing and complaining about this fact. Cam Cameron needs to find additional incentive from coming back to the place he was just fired from to show the Dolphins what kind of masterful gameplan he can instill in even a challenged offense such as the Ravens. Take a page from Miami's playbook and try a trick play (or, god forbid, two!?) to offset what they will probably do out of their new, successful, "Wildcat" formation. Have Joe Flacco throw the ball deep and over the middle, even if to just set things up on the outside as usual to Derrick Mason. Run, run, run, and then run some more.

Defensively, they just cannot give up the big play. They can't allow themselves to be fooled by the trick play, the pump fake or the Wildcat formation. Ed Reed or Jim Leonhard must stay back when Ronnie Brown rolls out, just in case he decides to pull up and throw the ball. The front seven must put  ton of presure on the relatively immobile Chad Pennington and Ray Lewis needs to continue his incredibly youthful hard hitting play by putting a pounding on the running backs. Chris McAlister needs to focus on shutting down his man, as the other corners are horrible and need all the help the safeties can give them in coverage. If they take away the big play, they can make it hard for the Dolphins to score on long drives against the league's #1 rated defense. If the defense can give the offense a bonus by getting turnovers and giving the offense a short field to work with, so much the better. However, on the flip side, if they do not pressure the QB and get any turnovers, then to expect the offense to be the sole producer of points puts the Ravens in a deep hole.

Since their offense isn't clicking, especially in the Red Zone, the Ravens need Matt Stover to get out of his early season funk by hitting the field goals when called upon. Not being able to put one through the uprights over 40 yards will just not cut it in the NFL, especially for a team that needs all the points it can get and relies heavily on the field goal. At the same time, hitting short kickoffs to the dangerous Ted Ginn will constantly put the Dolphins in good field position. Along with the ineptness of the Ravens return game, specifically Yamon Figurs poor running and decision-making, the Ravens have been losing the field position battle that has put them in a huge hole deep in their own territory time and time again.

The Ravens need to get off to a good and quick start in order to make a game of this. While I'm not expecting a blowout for either side, the team that falls behind early will probably lose the game, as we are not talking about two offensive powerhouses. However, the Dolphins have proved they can score, even when they lose, while the Ravens have rarely scored much, even in their victories. Once again, I am concerned that there are seeminly too many things that need to go right for the Ravens to win this game on the road. Therefore, until they can prove me wrong by winning a road contest as an underdog (3 points), I am frustratingly going to have to pick them to be on the short end of another win-able game.

Dolphins:  17-10

 

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