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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 26 October 2017 by Luke Jones

You may want to put the children to bed early on Thursday.

After several surprisingly-strong editions of Thursday Night Football this season, the Ravens and their 31st-ranked offense welcome Miami and its 32nd-ranked offense to M&T Bank Stadium in what’s anything but a sexy matchup on paper. Standing at 3-4 with back-to-back road games looming, Baltimore desperately could use a win to remain relevant in the AFC while the enigmatic Dolphins aim for their fourth straight victory.

Injuries are again a major story for the Ravens offense as five wide receivers are listed as either doubtful or questionable and tight end Benjamin Watson is also questionable, making you shudder at the potential limitations of a passing game that’s been poor even when much healthier this season. On the bright side, the defensive line is in better shape than it’s been in some time with none of its current members listed on the injury report.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the fifth consecutive season with the latter winning three of the last four meetings. The all-time regular-season series is tied 6-6, but Baltimore owns a 3-1 advantage at home with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.

Below are five predictions for Thursday:

1. Griff Whalen will catch a touchdown pass. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one other than Whalen being one of two wide receivers not listed on the injury report this week. Vince Mayle scored a touchdown in Week 5, Bobby Rainey in Week 6, and Chris Moore last week in Minnesota, so let’s make it four weeks in a row for a nondescript Ravens player to find the end zone. For this offense to score a touchdown, you’d figure it has to be something weird, right?

2. The Ravens will hold Miami under 100 yards rushing. The thought of making such a prediction with the opponent sporting the league’s 29th-ranked running game would have been stating the obvious in the past, but Baltimore ranking dead last in rushing yards allowed per game and 23rd in yards per carry allowed is far more jarring than any of the ugliness witnessed with the offense. Especially with Brandon Williams healthy, this defense has too much talent to continue to be this poor against the run. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and his offensive line have also been very ordinary this season.

3. Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will collect a sack and force a fumble. Even if starting right guard Matt Skura returns from injury, the interior offensive line has a nightmare on its hands trying to contain the monstrous defensive lineman. Look for the Ravens to run outside and for Joe Flacco to try to roll and use some bootlegs to minimize Suh’s ability to disrupt the middle of the pocket, but it’s difficult envisioning the five-time Pro Bowl selection not having a big impact in this one.

4. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore will have more passing yards than Flacco, but a critical interception will swing the outcome. Miami is better off with Moore playing instead of Jay Cutler, but the backup isn’t the second coming of Frank Reich, either. If the Ravens can contain an underwhelming running game, the pass defense can play with the aggressiveness it showed in the first two weeks of the season coming away with a total of eight interceptions. Jarvis Landry is certainly a concern, but Baltimore’s cornerbacks have been playing at a high level and may not have to contend with DeVante Parker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury.

5. The Ravens will prevail in an ugly 16-13 final to temporarily ease some of the tension in Owings Mills. I don’t believe this is a good football team, but I also think Miami is a suspect 4-2 outfit with a minus-20 point differential and one of the worst offenses in the NFL. If Jeremy Maclin can play, the Ravens should be able to move the ball just enough to put themselves in position to score some points to complement an energized defense. Playing at home on a short week and being the more desperate team at the midway point of the season, Baltimore is getting as close to must-win territory as a team with any realistic playoff aspirations can be in late October. If the Ravens lose, it could be an unsettling weekend at 1 Winning Drive with many already clamoring for change before Thursday’s game.

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Ravens preparing for Lions’ monstrous defensive tackles

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As if preparing for arguably the NFL’s most explosive offensive player in Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson wasn’t enough, the Ravens must also deal with a pair of monsters in the middle of the Lions defensive line on Monday night.

And while Detroit’s defense ranks an ordinary 17th in yards allowed and 18th in points surrendered this season, tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley can wreak havoc on an offense in a variety of ways. Effective in shutting down the run as well as providing pressure up the middle, the tackles also bring an intimidation factor that walks a fine line between intimidating and dirty at times.

“Their reputation, they definitely live up to it,” running back Ray Rice said. “I don’t know if you want to call it physical or dirty. Whatever the refs see, that’s what they see. But needless to say, I’m not going to spark any fire. No. 1 is those two guys there in the middle, Ndamukong Suh and Fairley. They are great football players. We know we have our hands full with those guys.”

The Lions rank sixth against the run, which doesn’t bode well for a Baltimore running game that’s last in the league in yards per carry, but Suh’s biggest asset is his ability to put pressure on the quarterback. His 5 1/2 sacks rank second on the Lions behind defensive end Ziggy Ansah while Fairley has added 3 1/2 sacks on the season.

Guards Marshal Yanda and A.Q. Shipley along with center Gino Gradkowski will be entrusted to keep quarterback Joe Flacco upright and to give him room to step up to throw against a vulnerable Detroit secondary. Yanda’s task will be especially challenging as Suh has graded out as the second-best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“One of the things that you notice about them is the fact that they can push the pocket,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “They can keep you from stepping up in it, and therefore you aren’t able to get the ball down the field with the kind of precision that you like. They do that quite often to quarterbacks. They get free.”

One man on ‘Megatron?’

Plenty of discussion this week has centered around how the Ravens will try to cover Johnson with third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith being named as the most popular candidate.

As you’d expect, the Ravens aren’t giving away how they plan to defend the 6-foot-5 receiver, but Smith is their most effective defender in press coverage should they try to play a physical brand of football against him like they did earlier this season against standout receivers such as Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.

“How many corners are 6-foot-2 [with] long arms, a physical guy, a strong guy and the guy can run?” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Those are all the things you look for in a corner. Besides that, I think his confidence is growing. That’s the other side of it and the more it grows, the better you become.”

Pees would only say that fans and media would find out Monday night if the Ravens have decided to match Smith against Johnson exclusively, but the strategy isn’t as simple for a defense that plays extensive zone coverage.

In fact, the defensive coordinator provided a pretty convincing explanation for why the Ravens shouldn’t move away from their typical strategy of keeping Smith at right corner and Lardarius Webb on the left side in the base defense. Matching Smith up with the star receiver would require adjustments everywhere else and defenders to have new responsibilities if the Ravens are to show anything other than man coverage.

“You can’t go into a game, and every time I walk over with [No.81], they know you’re in man coverage, so a red flag is going to go up,” Pees said. “You’ve got to be able to play all of your coverages if you are going to play it that way. There’s a lot more involved in playing that, and all of a sudden the guy is in the slot, and he’s not an outside receiver, and you’re in sub defense, and Jimmy is in a nickel, or your guy is not a nickel. There’s a lot more involved when you try to play matchup coverage. It’s easy when you play man; go get your guy. But I wouldn’t want to be a coordinator in this league that tells the offensive coordinator every time I’m in man coverage.”

Indoor football

After dealing with a tornado-prompted delay in Chicago, a snowstorm in Baltimore, and high winds during a number of games over the last six weeks, the Ravens are embracing the opportunity to play indoors for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII.

It doesn’t result in any distinct advantage against an opponent that plays all home games inside, but the fast track and controlled climate of Ford Field just might be the elixir for a passing game that now possesses tight end Dennis Pitta and is looking for more consistency.

“I never make a big deal about playing outside,” Flacco said, “but every time you go into a dome and you start warming up, you realize how awesome it is to be able to throw the ball inside. It won’t have too much of an effect on the outcome of the game. As a quarterback, you always want great conditions and a dome obviously presents that.”

In addition to an easier time in the passing game, the Ravens will receive a respite in the kicking game after excellent work from kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch in some very difficult conditions.

The Ravens have even needed to adjust to the idea of not needing to prepare for harsh weather conditions.

“It’s been interesting,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “I gave the players the weather report this morning in the meeting, and I said it’s going to be 72 and calm. And there was a long pause. They weren’t sure they understood. ‘Oh, yeah. That’s right!!’ So, yes, we don’t have to deal with that. I think the people that are most happy about that are the specialists.”

 

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