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Ravens vs. Dolphins potential X factors: Pass rush poised to wreck shop against ailing offensive line

This AFC clash of titans could be decided by contributions from a handful of players.

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will be closing the regular season out at home on Sunday with their Week 17 AFC clash with the Miami Dolphins. The last time these two teams faced off was in Week 2 last season and they combined for 80 points after the Ravens blew a 21-point lead. This time around, they’re slightly favored to come out on top and will be playing for the chance to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

In almost every game, there is a play or two made that helped swing momentum into a team’s favor or extend their lead. There are a handful of select players who either aren’t being talked about as much or are primed to have a big day.

Below are some of those individuals who could prove to be deciding factors in the final outcome in Week 17.


DT Justin Madubuike

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

The fourth-year pro has been wrecking shop against opposing offensive lines, healthy or not. The Dolphins’ interior blockers already were a lackluster bunch before injuries started to take their toll and it appears they will be without starting right guard Robert Hunt for the fourth game in a row as he was listed as doubtful on the final injury report with a lingering hamstring issue. Madubuike and company are primed to have highly disruptive outings on Sunday and after having his consecutive games with at least half a sack streak snapped one shy of breaking the NFL record last week, he will be looking to start a new one by adding to his team-leading total of 12 in this pivotal matchup.

RB Gus Edwards

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The sixth-year veteran is coming off back-to-back games in which has recorded over 60 combined yards from scrimmage, 10 or more touches, and scored a touchdown. The Dolphins’ defense has improved in many areas over the second half of the season but an area where they still struggle and the Ravens’ offense happens to thrive is in the red zone where they’re allowing opposing teams to convert opportunities inside the 20-yard line for touchdowns 63.6 percent of the time which is the seventh-highest mark in the league. Edwards has been a touchdown machine in that area of the field and has been nearly unstoppable at the goal line as evidenced by his career-high 12 rushing touchdowns.

In addition to being the Ravens’ bruising short-yardage back, he continues to show growth and explosive playmaking ability in the passing game. Edwards has already set career highs in targets (13), receptions (12), and receiving yards (180) and averages a career-high 15 yards per catch thanks in large part to an 80-yard gain he ripped off after leaking out in Week 7 and a 39 yarder he recorded on an identical improvised play last week.

OLB Jadeveon Clowney

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The three-time Pro Bowler is coming off one of the best games of his resurgent season in which he was able to wreak havoc in the second half, especially when the San Francisco 49ers offensive line began to deteriorate due to injury. Clowney nearly had three sacks which would’ve set a new career-high in a single season but he was able to notch one and is now just 1.5 away from reaching the double-digit milestone for the first time in his 10-year career. He led the team with eight pressures and according to Pro Football Focus, produced a pass rush win rate of 33.3 percent. Both of the Dolphins’ starting offensive tackles were limited all week in practice and while four-time Pro Bowler Terron Armstead was removed from the final injury report despite dealing with three different ailments, fourth-year right tackle Austin Jackson who missed last week’s game is listed as questionable with an oblique injury.

DB Marcus Williams

Miami Dolphins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The seventh-year veteran recorded a pair of interceptions the last time these two teams faced off and probably would love nothing more than for history to repeat itself to a degree that results in him making multiple game-changing plays but not blowing a big lead in the end. Williams made the game-sealing interception last week late in the fourth quarter for his first of the season and the Ravens’ fifth of the night. He has battled injuries all year long between his pectoral, hamstring, and groin but continues to come up with clutch plays in every game he appears in even if it’s a pass breakup up open field tackle. His presence in the backend will help cover a lot of ground and hopefully keep a lid on any explosive deep shots down the field that the Dolphins dial-up and attempt to seven-time Pro Bowler Tyreek Hill.

WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The three-time Pro Bowler has had a quiet last couple of games after being on a highly productive heater from November through early December. However, if standout first-round rookie receiver Zay Flowers is limited by the calf injury that kept him out of practice for two days, expect to see the Ravens turn to Beckham Jr. to step up in a more featured role. While he’d have his hands full lining up out wide on either side of Miami’s secondary with the Pro Bowl tandem of Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard, one matchup he could look to exploit is in the slot. The Dolphins starting nickel in second-year undrafted free agent Kader Kohou who has played well this year but gave up a long touchdown to CeeDee Lamb out of the slot last week and Beckham Jr. has shown this year that he can still be explosive, dynamic, and clutch catching passes over the middle of the field this season.

OLB Kyle Van Noy

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 10th-year veteran will be going against another one of his former teams for the third time this season and is coming off a very strong performance against the 49ers in which he recorded his first sack in the last four games to set a new career single-season high with seven in just 12 games. Van Noy is poised to thrive for the same reasons Clowney, Madubuike, and the rest of the defensive front are, the poor quality and health of the blocking unit he’ll be going up against. While Dolphins fourth-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is among the league’s best at getting the ball out of his hands quickly, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald will certainly have some deceptive post-snap coverages that make him hold onto the ball a little longer by taking away his initial reads which will give his pass rushers more time to get home on stunts, twists, blitzes, and traditional rushes.