The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens are two teams headed in polar-opposite directions. The Ravens are trying to stay afloat after a 3-0 start and are in danger of surrendering first place in the AFC North. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have won six in a row and have vaulted themselves into the playoff picture, currently holding a berth in the postseason.
The two will meet on Sunday in what’s sure to be a pivotal game for both teams. The Dolphins need a win to hold onto their spot in the playoffs, while the Ravens have to get back on track, particularly on offense.
Doing so against the Dolphins shouldn’t look difficult on paper, considering they’re 30th against the run, but Baltimore’s offense is equally bad. For that reason, among others, the Dolphins will win this one.
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Ravens can’t run the ball
Miami’s run defense is atrocious. It's 30th in the NFL against the run, while also allowing the third-highest yards-per-carry average (4.6). One of the few units worse than Miami’s run defense is Baltimore’s ground game. The Ravens can’t run the ball, which hinders them on offense. There’s simply no balance, routinely forcing Joe Flacco to throw the ball more often than the coaching staff would like him to.
The Ravens have yet to find an answer at running back with both Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon struggling. Baltimore has the fifth-fewest rushing yards (966) in the NFL and averages only 3.6 yards per carry. Going to the run even on early downs often puts the offense behind the sticks, which is one of the main reasons Baltimore punts as often as it does.
The Ravens’ lack of a ground game will mask Miami’s poor run defense as opposed to exposing it, which ultimately will hurt the offense’s efficiency.
Dolphins’ pass rush is great
The Dolphins’ secondary is suspect, lacking a true No. 1 cornerback. Fortunately, they have one of the best defensive lines and pass rushes in the league. They’re 13th with 25 sacks, most of which have come by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake (91). Combined, they have 13.5 with Wake defying odds as a 34-year-old coming off of an Achilles injury to put together an outstanding season (8.5 sacks).
The Ravens have done a good job protecting Joe Flacco this season (23 sacks), but they’ll get a tough test in the Dolphins. Not only will Miami get to Flacco for a handful of sacks, but they’ll also make him uncomfortable in the pocket. He’ll have to keep his head on a swivel, which won’t make it easy for him to make necessary reads. And with Suh up the middle, Flacco won’t be able to step up in the pocket as he likes to do.
With the way Baltimore’s offense is built – banking on big plays to move the ball downfield – the Ravens will have a hard time sustaining drives, which has been a problem all year. Flacco won’t have time to stand in the pocket and deliver deep passes.
Getty ImagesRob Foldy
The X-factor in this game is Ajayi, one of the best running backs in the NFL. He’s rushed for 730 yards in his past six games, averaging a whopping 5.6 yards per carry. While his statistics have dropped off a bit since his torrid stretch from Week 6 to Week 9, he’s still the catalyst to this offense. Ajayi is the reason Miami has won six in a row, and it’s no coincidence it began when he had his first of two 200-yard games.
The Ravens boast the best run defense in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to move the ball on the ground. The Cowboys did it, and although they have the best running back and offensive line in the league, they showed it’s possible. The Jets also did it, too.
Since Week 7 — five games — the Ravens have allowed 406 yards on the ground. That’s not a terribly high number, but it’s not the dominant stretch in which they surrendered 208 yards in four games.
Laremy Tunsil said he’ll definitely play, which is a big boost to the offensive line. Branden Albert was limited in practice Thursday and has a shot at playing Sunday. If those two are able to go, the Dolphins will be able to run the ball with success.