As fast as Miami plays on the defensive side of the ball, they can be over aggressive in spots, and the Saints certainly exploited their lack of discipline on Monday night. For instance, New Orleans used a combination of play-fakes, pump-fakes, and ghost plays—when receivers or backs are used as decoys—to get the Miami defenders to take false steps all over the field.
Baltimore has hardly shown that level of creativity with their play-calling this season, but they will need to take a couple of pages out of the Saints’ playbook on Sunday. Specifically, using motion and running more “deceptive” play-fakes will get the Dolphins out of position and open more big-play possibilities for the offense.
Crossers to Beat the Cross Blitz
One of the lasting memories of former Raven Dannell Ellerbe was the pressure he applied on quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the final offensive play of the Super Bowl. Ellerbe established himself as the best blitzer on the Baltimore defense, as he possessed incredible timing to hit the gaps cleanly and the physical prowess to overpower smaller blockers behind the line.
Ellerbe’s role as a dynamo blitzer for Baltimore has not been lost on his new team. The Dolphins keep the emerging backer active as an ‘A’ gap blitzer especially in third-down passing situations. And when he isn’t coming on the blitz, he drops into coverage to defend a quick throw.
Quarterback Joe Flacco and center Gino Gradkowski will have to figure out when Ellerbe and fellow speed backer Phillip Wheeler are coming. In addition, Flacco should have the autonomy to audible at the line and use a steady diet of crossers, drags, and slants to defeat the inside blitz.
Start with the Man in the Middle
Paul Soliai may not be a household name just yet, but after his Monday Night performance against the Saints, he’s on his way. The 6-4, 365-pound nose guard controlled the middle of the line in that game and also stuffed the run in the backfield. Single blocking Soliai in run blocking situations is simply a recipe for disaster.
The Ravens will need to incorporate more double teams and combination blocks to keep Soliai off balance. If the interior linemen are able to keep the Miami tackle occupied, they will have more success running the ball outside of his strike zone.
The Magnificent Seven
In Miami, the Ravens will face an offense that likes to spread the field. They typically line up in a three wide, one back set, and employ a pass first mentality on first down. When they do run the ball, the backs line up in an offset formation and they hit the holes behind the guards and center Mike Pouncey.
Given that Miami runs a more wide-open attack, particularly on early downs, it will be up to the Baltimore line and backers to stop the run up front. The safeties won’t be able to scrape downhill to support the run as they did in the last two games against Houston and Buffalo. Overall, the front needs to be able to win their one-on-one blocks and control the line of scrimmage.
Stop the Pass on First Down
By adapting an attack-first mentality on first down, the Dolphins have been able to dictate the pace on offense and keep young quarterback Ryan Tannehill in favorable down-and-distance situations on third down. Tannehill does a nice job of releasing the ball quickly to receivers Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline, and Mike Wallace. His ability to connect with his receivers has also helped open up the running game.
Last week against New Orleans, Tannehill passed the ball seven times on first down in the first half of the game. The results were mixed, and because he wasn’t as effective, the Saints were able to tee off on Tannehill in third-down passing situations.
The Ravens will have to stay prepared for Miami’s three-receiver pass attack on first down and keep the positive gains to a minimum. If they can prevent the second-year quarterback from getting into a rhythm, they’ll have a chance to attack on third down.
No More Creature Comforts
Between tight end Charles Clay and running back Lamar Miller, Tannehill has two underrated outlet receivers he can turn to when the blitz is on. Clay has emerged as a jack-of-all trades, lining up out of the backfield, in the slot, and in traditional tight end formations. He is a matchup nightmare against linebackers. Miller is a fast back who can leak out on wheel routes and has been dangerous in the open field.
The two young guns need to be contained by the Baltimore backers on Sunday. If they are able to stay active as Tannehill’s go-to targets, the Ravens will have a hard time getting off the field, especially in third-down conversion situations.
ONE-ON-ONE BATTLE OF THE WEEK
Michael Oher versus Cameron Wake
It’s still unclear whether the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end will suit up on Sunday. Wake has been battling an injured knee and missed the previous game against New Orleans. When healthy, he is an absolute man-child who plays with deceptive power and tremendous leverage. Oher has been up and down as a pass blocker this season, but he’ll need to play with better footwork and consistency to check Wake.
Here’s a closer look at the Dolphins answer to Milli Vanilli — Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler