1. Miami Vice
The No.1 objective for any team that faces off against the Miami Dolphins is to come up with a plan to deal with defensive end Cameron Wake. Easier said than done. The ultimate hybrid rusher is built like The Incredible Hulk. His motor is like a cell phone that doesn’t need a charger. And his get off (especially at home) is downright unfair.
The last two weeks, Wake has been dealing with a heavy dose of run plays, misdirection, and double teams to slow down his pass-rush exploits. Both the Broncos and Jets stayed away from as many obvious passing situations as they possibly could.
Their blocking scheme should be slanted to protect right tackle Ricky Wagner from handing as many one-on-one duties as possible. Wagner has held up well so far, but Wake is another beast entirely. This is easily the best defensive end he’ll face all season long.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak should use a combination of chip blocks and double teams to slow down Wake, especially in clear passing downs. Whenever possible, the offense should also force Wake into coverage situations by using the chipper (whether it’s a tight end or fullback Kyle Juszczyk) as the pass-catching target after making the initial block.
2. Pass Out of Power Formations
Even though Wake is the straw that stirs the drink for the Miami pass rush, the unit as a whole is deadly. Dion Jordan, Olivier Verner, and Koa Miso are also disruptive forces in the passing game. In an ideal scenario, all of these players would get the opportunity to tee off on an offense that is forced to pass the football.
If the Ravens operate from more open formations when they pass the ball, they will be playing right into the hands of the Dolphins’ attack.
They’ll need to scale back on their usage of three, four, and five wide sets. Instead, when the team does air out the football, they should be setting up in power-based formations. That means fielding a combination of two tight end, two back packages (with Juszczyk as the swing third tight end), or their base two tight end, two wide package.
In addition, in third-down passing situations, the team should turn to a sixth offensive linemen (like James Hurst) to stay in and block to give Flacco as much maximum protection as possible.
Perhaps the biggest key is that the offense stays ahead in the down and distance battle to avoid being in too many third-and-five or longer conversion situations. This is something the Ravens were unable to avoid against the Chargers during the second half (as San Diego was stopping the run consistently on first down), leading to too many third-and-long challenges.
3. Misdirection Mayhem
One of the most glaring developments of the Jets/Dolphins matchup on Monday Night Football was the success New York had using their receivers to fuel their ground game. Receiver Greg Salus scored on a 20-yard reverse off tackle, and Jeremy Kerley also chipped in with two runs that covered 38 yards on designed plays.
The Jets exposed the Dolphins’ over-aggressiveness on those plays, as the Miami front was caught chasing too hard to the play-side to stop the run, leaving the backside completely vacant.
The Ravens don’t get their receivers involved as runners all that often. But against the Saints, Jacoby Jones was used on an end around in a key third-down situation and he was able to turn the corner to keep the drive alive. Using him in that role again could pay off in a big way.
All in all, Kubiak will need to tap into some of his own tricks to test the Dolphins’ backside integrity. As it stands, it’s likely that the Ravens will run some boot action off of their stretch run to catch the Miami defenders out of position. But going beyond those misdirection plays, there should be a healthy sprinkle of screens to gash the Miami defenders when they recklessly rush upfield.
1. Shotgun Spread
It’s no secret how Miami wants to line up to attack a defense. They want to use a combination of three and four-wide sets to dictate the tempo. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is especially comfortable working from the gun and firing off the ball quickly.
Now, with the injury to receiver Brian Hartline (his status is still up in the air), the Dolphins may cut down on their frequency of four-wide sets. Against the Broncos, this was a staple formation to keep their talented fleet of receivers involved in the action.
If Hartline can’t go, Miami will still show a lot of three-wide looks, as rookie Jarvis Landry is their go-to third-down receiver.
Baltimore will need to match up with a nickel package that can stay on the field without the need for substitutions. Against San Diego, the defense was caught between substitutions and they were taken advantage of by Phillip Rivers’ quick count. This time, they need to cut down on the complications and stick to one personnel package to avoid making mistakes.
2. Compress the Middle of the Field
The success the defense has in controlling the Miami passing game could very come down to the play of linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley. The inside backer duo will be counted on heavily to defend the intermediate passing game that Tannehill is so adept at executing.
According to Pro Football Focus, the second-year passer has a 118.7 passer rating and averages 7.9 yards per pass on routes that go 10-19 yards between the hashes. In contrast, he is shakier throwing the ball outside the numbers going to his left (he has zero completions in these instances so far this season).
Mosley and Smith will need to be sure tacklers on all routes that come their way underneath. And they can’t get caught up chasing Tannehill’s play fakes to leave their coverage posts in the 10-19 yard strike zone.
3. Keep Tannehill on Lock Down
Tannehill also presents a major challenge on zone-stretch read-option plays. The former Texas A&M receiver is a dangerous weapon in the open field. He will read the opposing defensive end on a read-option play, and if the end crashes down the line to play the back, he’ll keep the ball and take off in space.
The rush ends need to honor their C-gap assignments and trust the interior linemen to play the run. Their job will be to stay outside to not only hold handle Tannehill in check, but to also account for any sweep handoffs to running back Lamar Miller, who runs fast and furious turning the corner.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Torrey Smith versus Brent Grimes
Despite a knee issue, and missed practice time, every indication is that Torrey Smith will play in a virtual playoff game scenario. If he does end up suiting up, he’ll likely draw the coverage attention of Grimes. The underrated cornerback has emerged in Miami as a shutdown force. He isn’t the biggest guy. But he is tough, physical, and plays with great anticipation when the ball is in the air. Smith has been playing with an edge the last two games. He’s been especially effective after the catch. He’ll need to play with the same chip on his shoulder to have a chance to compete against Grimes.