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Ravens vs. Dolphins: Matchups to watch

Syndication: Palm Beach Post Bill Ingram / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a comfortable victory on the road against the New York Jets to kick off the season, the Baltimore Ravens now return home to host the Miami Dolphins. Many have circled this game on the calendar for the Ravens after the Dolphins humiliated them on Thursday Night Football in 2021 — a game that saw Baltimore’s offense unable to counter the excessive amount and style of blitzes Miami dialed up.

With that in mind, what are some of the key matchups to keep an eye on for Sunday’s rematch?

Lamar Jackson vs. the blitz

The Ravens’ offense was utterly dismantled by the Dolphins’ defensive game plan last season — one that involved showing Cover-0 pre-snap an astounding 40 times. The style of blitzes varied greatly, leading to a confused and overwhelmed Lamar Jackson. Miami consistently showed Cover-0 only to drop different players back into coverage after the snap, even defensive tackles into zone coverage.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz detailed Baltimore’s struggles against the unique approach and how Jackson failed to respond.

Head Coach John Harbaugh and Jackson both iterated that they have prepared for the same situation and feel confident in their ability to react this time.

“I feel like we’ll have an answer for it this year,” Jackson said. “We watched a lot of film on those guys, because we don’t want it to happen again.”

Getting the ball out quickly will likely be a point of emphasis this week, as will making Miami pay over top with chunk plays through the air on blitzes. Screen passes — something the Ravens have struggled to consistently execute in recent years — should also be in the game plan. Getting to the line of scrimmage with more time left on the play clock is also important so that Jackson and the offense can try to identify where the pressure is coming from and which players are dropping from the line.

Justin Madubuike vs. Liam Eichenberg

One of the biggest takeaways from Baltimore’s Week 1 win was the sheer dominance on display by the defensive line, and perhaps no player was more dominant than defensive end Justin Madubuike. After a promising rookie season, Madubuike had somewhat of a disappointing second year in 2021. The hype this offseason shifted towards rookie defensive tackle Travis Jones instead. With Jones absent with an ankle injury, Madubuike reminded everyone of his presence against the Jets.

According to PFF, Madubuike had five pressures and a sack on 33 passing plays against New York. Madubuike has the opportunity for another strong performance this week, specifically when lined up against left guard Liam Eichenberg. PFF charted the second-year offensive lineman with four pressures allowed on 37 passing plays against the New England Patriots in Week 1, resulting in a team-low passing-blocking grade of 20.8

Rashod Bateman vs. Xavien Howard

Rashod Bateman was relatively quiet against New York until he found himself streaking free down the field for a 55-yard touchdown. Bateman is in store for a tough matchup this week as he will likely see a fair amount of All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard. Throughout his rookie season and even last Sunday, Bateman has primarily lined up as the receiver on the left side of the offense. In 2021, Howard spent most of his playing time on the opposite side of the field, but with cornerback Byron Jones currently on the Reserved/PUP list, Howard was tasked with shadowing wide receiver DeVante Parker against the Patriots.

If Howard is able to take Bateman out of the equation, then Jackson will need his other targets to step up, such as wide receiver Devin Duvernay did in Week 1 with a pair of touchdown catches.

Ravens’ secondary vs. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle

The Ravens lost cornerback Kyle Fuller for the season with a torn ACL last Sunday. Since then, two more cornerbacks have popped up on the injury report, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens, the team’s top two starters while Marcus Peters remains sidelined. Stephens was limited on Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday or Friday with a quad injury. Meanwhile, Humphrey was limited on Thursday and missed Friday’s practice with a groin injury. Peters was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, but it is unknown if he will make his return to the field this Sunday or not.

Rookie cornerbacks Jayln Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams will see their workload increase if even one of the aforementioned players is unable to play this week. Against two of the most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL, this has the potential for disaster. The Dolphins traded for wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason to pair with second-year first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, giving Miami the fastest duo of receivers in the entire league.

Baltimore’s biggest offseason acquisition, free safety Marcus Williams, was brought in for games such as this. Williams is one of the better free safeties in the NFL and gives the Ravens insurance on the backend of the defense against deep passing plays. Hill and Waddle are not only incredibly dangerous as vertical threats, though, as they both offer astounding ability to make people miss after the catch. In Week 1, 73 of their combined 163 receiving yards came after the catch. The Ravens will have to be disciplined in tackling and preventing short passes from becoming big plays.

Odafe Oweh vs. Greg Little

The Dolphins will be without starting right tackle Austin Jackson this week after he was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury suffered in Week 1. Greg Little replaced Jackson against New England and allowed three pressures and a sack on 28 passing plays, according to PFF. In line to start again this Sunday, Little will face off against outside linebacker Odafe Oweh.

Oweh did not record a sack or last week, but he was credited with five pressures by PFF. The second-year breakout candidate will be looking to get home to the quarterback this week after watching several other players come up with sacks last week. Since quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is left-handed, Oweh will have the benefit of rushing from his blindside as well.