The Cleveland Browns defeated the Buffalo Bills last Thursday Night to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North. (No this isn’t a misprint).
Suddenly the defending Super Bowl Champions were forced to play catch up.
To keep pace the Baltimore Ravens needed to defeat a tough Miami Dolphins team on the road in tropical conditions that clearly favored the home team dressed in white (Suddenly I’m thinking of Jack Nicholson mocking Tom Cruise’s all white Navy uniform in A Few Good Men, but I digress). Those conditions seemed even less ideal when you consider the fact that entering Sunday’s game, the Ravens were among the bottom feeders in rushing offense ranked 28th, averaging a paltry 64 yards per game on the ground.
The Dolphins were ranked an impressive 10th in the league defending the run yielding just 98.5 ypg. On paper this didn’t seem like a good matchup for the Ravens. Winning the clock, controlling the game through time of possession was paramount given the oppressive heat and humidity.
But the Ravens overcame the odds and despite losing left guard Kelechi Osemele after the first series of downs to back spasms, they grinded it out and stuck with the run – something they opted not to do a week prior in Buffalo.
To make matters worse for the Dolphins, the Ravens defense smothered the Miami running game and the result was a lopsided Time-of-Possession 36:16 to 23:44 in favor of the Ravens – perhaps THE most important statistic on this hot and humid day in that it set the stage for success in other facets of the game.
Joe Flacco was solid under pressure standing tall and courageously in the pocket despite getting hit (by my count) 11 times. With adequate time to set and throw he was accurate particularly on crossing routes. The pass-catch-run to Ed Dickson that went for 43 yards was a thing of beauty. It would be nice to see Flacco take off and run when the opportunity exists. He did that effectively against the Dolphins with a nice 14-yard pick up. If more of that shows up on film defenders will have to respect it and when they do, holes in the defense can and will open up downfield…
Back to Ed Dickson, it was nice to see him come out of his funk. Hopefully his 2 grabs for 51 yards (both first downs) will be something for the struggling tight end to build upon…Torrey Smith continues to be dependable as Flacco’s go-to-receiver. His 121 yards on 6 catches now puts him third in the league with 556 yards just behind Julio Jones (580) and Jimmy Graham (593)…Receiving mate Tandon Doss filled in nicely for Marlon Brown making a nice diving grab across the middle for a first down and making a great adjustment on a ball from Flacco thrown under duress, to pick up 40 yards on a post corner route…Give the Ravens coaching staff credit for sticking with the run even though Ray Rice continues to look like he’s pressing. That said, it was Rice’s best game YTD. Give him credit for endurance and perseverance…Play action was relevant in this game, freezing linebackers and creating space for Flacco with crossers and digs.
The Ravens front seven was extremely solid while stifling the Miami running game. Six sacks is also a very impressive number particularly when consideration is given to the fact that during 5 of those sacks, the Ravens sent only four pass rushers…Elvis Dumervil is a blur off the edge and if the Ravens can prevent passers from stepping up in the pocket “Doom” will be exactly that to opposing QB’s, particularly as offensive lines roll towards Terrell Suggs…Nice play from Brandon Williams bringing down Charles Clay for a 2-yard loss on a tight end screen…Daryl Smith’s sure tackling helped to mitigate any potential damage in Miami’s short-middle passing game…Josh Bynes played well against the run but still looks confused at times dropping into coverage…Arthur Brown made a very nice play on a well executed screen to help prevent a big play. It is just a matter of time before we see more of the second round pick…Justin Tucker was perfect, connecting on all four FGA’s while knocking 5 kicks through the end zone.
Given the pressure that the Ravens generated with 4 pass rushers you would think that the secondary might have a good day. They didn’t. Jimmy Smith’s technique was almost always sloppy while Matt Elam often seemed out of place. Elam failed to provide over-the-top help against Mike Wallace on his 49-yard reception from Ryan Tannehill. James Ihedigo has had a very solid season thus far but other than an acrobatic would-be interception that was overturned, his performance was subpar, particularly when he was torched by tight end Charles Clay on a 45-yard pass play…Corey Graham continues to fall further behind the standard he set during a very good 2012 season…The one bright spot in the secondary wore No. 21 – Lardarius Webb was a masterful technician after giving up the 49-yarder to Wallace. Webb was credited with 2 passes defensed but the rest of us saw more. Maybe the heat got to the official scorer…
AQ Shipley was called in for emergency duty. The emergency was more like a Chinese fire drill at times for the backup center who struggled in pass protection…The coaching decision to throw a deep pass from the 9-yard line on 3rd and 22 given the pass rush that the Dolphins were generating at that point in the game was uncharacteristically risky and it nearly cost the Ravens the game.
Bryant McKinnie can’t hit the bench soon enough. His play is about as inspiring as shingles on your honeymoon. Please take your matador’s cape to the far end of the bench …Sam Koch averaged 34.2 yards on 5 punts in what may have been his worst professional performance. His 26-yarder at the end of the first half from his own 34 gave the Dolphins great field position at their own 40. Seven plays and 1:05 later the Dolphins took a 7 point lead. His bad outing was accentuated by the outstanding day delivered by his Dolphins counterpart Brandon Fields.
Terrell Suggs is beginning to put together a monster season. After 5 games he has 7 sacks including 3 against the Dolphins on Sunday. Per usual he defended the run on the edge extremely well and scraped down the line on two occasions to take down Lamar Miller for gains of 1 and 2 yards, respectively. When he wasn’t sacking Tannehill, Suggs remained menacing, disrupting the Miami QB’s rhythm and hurrying his throw on at least 3 other passing attempts. In 2011 Suggs was the DPOY with 70 total tackles, 50 solo and 14 sacks. His projected stats should he continue his current pace would be 115-67-22.