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Head to Head: Dolphins vs. Ravens

Head to Head: Dolphins vs. Ravens
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Welcome to Head to Head, where a couple of hastily picked Sideline Report writers will discuss the prospects for their team’s fortunes that week.  This week’s installment showcases longtime contributors Roberto Pardo and Jack Crawford.

 

This week’s game features the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (6-5)  and the ascending Miami Dolphins (7-4), who have taken very diverse paths to success this season.  Let’s get to the dirty details…

 

 

Pardo: Miami is on a six-game winning streak, going into Baltimore for what I think is the most important football game they have had in over a decade.  This team hasn’t gained a lot of hype.  Are they Dolphins still flying under the radar or are they a team that concerns you?

Crawford: Given their middling start, I would have said no until this past month.  The Dolphins appear to be building team chemistry and playing complete football, which has been missing in South Florida for some time.  Their resurgence on offense has been notable, with fifth-year QB Ryan Tannehill appearing to finally come into his own and upstart RB Jay Ajayi establishing a consistent rushing attack.

The Ravens will counter with the league’s #2 overall defense, which, given their offensive woes, is the reason they’re currently holding a slim divisional lead.  How should the Dolphins attack a team whose obvious strength is stopping the interior rush?

Pardo: This is going to be tough on Miami, especially with the questions on its offensive line this week.  Last week three starters sat out.  The entire left side of the line was gone, and you saw the impact that had as Ajayi had extreme issues getting anything going against the worst rushing defense in the NFL.  Early rumors seem to indicate that LG Laremy Tunsil and LT Branden Albert will be back.  Pouncey’s replacement as been playing well too.  The solution?  Don’t abandon the run.  Tannehill works best off play action and on the run, the threat of a run game must still be there for him to be most effective.  This will be the best defense Miami has played since week 1.  This will be a test for the young play makers on the team, but this team goes as the offensive line goes.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Flacco seems to have developed a chemistry with WR Mike Wallace that Tannehill never had.  Has Wallace developed beyond the slant and the go?  Is Flacco actually playing better, or is that a mirage? Finally, is the Baltimore offensive line a weakness that the Dolphins defensive line can take advantage of?
Crawford: To be fair, Mike Wallace really hasn’t developed beyond slants and go routes, but since that’s all the Ravens have asked him to do, it seems to be a decent fit.  Joe Flacco’s forte is the deep ball, so Wallace’s chances of success have improved simply by being a Flacco target.
As for Flacco playing better, well…the Ravens’ myriad offensive coordinators, coaches and advisers all seem to currently favor a ball-control, high-percentage offense with emphasis on rollouts and checkdowns.  The net effect is fewer yards per play, but fewer mistakes by Flacco.  I wouldn’t call it a mirage; it’s more of a safeguard, especially with a good defense to account for field position.
The Ravens’ offensive line can be exploited, yes, particularly up the middle, where C Jeremy Zuttah and a revolving cast at LG are a marked weakness.  I expect a heavy dose of DT Ndamukong Suh in just that area.
Regarding offensive linemen, how’s top pick Laremy Tunsil working out overall?  Given his draft-day complications, many weren’t sure how he’d fare, and it’s worth noting that the Ravens selected rookie LT Ronnie Stanley due to character concerns with Tunsil.  How’s he doing?
Pardo: Tunsil has been a complete steal.  He’s been playing at guard as we still have Brandon Albert at tackle.  When Albert was out he stepped in at LT and did a very nice job too.  He has solidified the left side of the line, and help turned what was a laughing stock of a line last year and the start of this year into a good unit.  I’m not sure how common this knowledge is, but Miami’s streak started when we got our five starting lineman back for the first time.  Like most of Miami’s line, there have been health concerns, but his play has more than made up for it.  (On a side note, why does the NFL still even care about weed?)  With LB Kiko Alonso playing well, Tunsil slipping to us at 13, and CB Byron Maxwell being competent with his restructured contract, that Eagles trade has played out very well for us at this moment.
Ravens are a 3.5 home favorites.  Vegas sees this as two very similarly capable teams battling over what could end up being the final WC spot.  How do you think the game goes?
Crawford: I see a close, evenly matched game (it should be noted that the Ravens are incapable of playing in blowouts, regardless of who’s winning).  Overall, I’d say the Dolphins may have a slight edge because they’re definitely more balanced overall.  Look for a lot of running, as both teams rely heavily on play-action passing, and expect both defenses to stay more in their base to offset their respective rushing attacks.  Ravens potential star of the game:  ILB C.J. Mosley, who will see plenty of action in the middle.
Final score:  Dolphins 24, Ravens 21
What say you?
Pardo: I’m so used to let downs that I am scared to actually write down that the hot streak is going to continue.  That being said, I have seen Miami win in literally every way possible during this streak.

Last minute come back by the offense?  Check.

Last minute win with a defensive score?  Check  Special Teams score followed by the offense milking the clock to win?  Check.

Big defensive stop to win?  Check.

People want to think of this is a negative, but I refuse to.  I also think it’s going to be a violent close game.  I think Wallace makes Fins fans even angrier by breaking for a big score.  I’d take Miami with the points myself, even though I feel I will regret it.  Miami believes and I am starting to.  I think they win their biggest games in years.
Fins 27, Ravens 24
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