1. Move the Launch Pad: You could certainly make the argument that the offensive line play (both in the running game and passing game) is ascending with each passing week. The Bengals’ front, which has tormented the Ravens in years past, was virtually a non-factor outside of Carlos Dunlap’s batted balls. For a second week in a row, the interior line was also able to get some movement into the second level to give Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon some room to maneuver.
The Dolphins present a different challenge this week. Their front – led by Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh – has been active and disruptive all season. Although the collective front seven has struggled to stop the run, they can still create negative plays with their ability to gain quick penetration. They’ll take chances to get upfield.
This is the week for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to get Joe Flacco out of the pocket and give him more opportunities to throw on the run. We’ve seen a minor sprinkle of boot action to complement the misdirection run-action the team has been showing recently. Those plays have the chance to be effective against a Miami defensive line that will cheat and take some chances to make plays in the backfield.
Misdirection has also worked well for the Ravens to spring some plays in the open field, particularly to receiver Mike Wallace as a runner and receiver. Misdirection action should be used in the pre-snap phase to get the Miami defenders to chase and flow out of position.
2. Chips and Heavy Packages: Last week marked the return of tight end Nick Boyle to the tight end rotation, which has been a colossal disappointment this season. With Boyle back, run blocking got a bit of a boost, and as Boyle continues to get his stamina back, his reps need to increase. He brings a violent, aggressive style that the front sorely needs to open up some holes.
What will make things really interesting is if we also see Crockett Gillmore return to the lineup, because that will enable Mornhinweg to protect the edges with some heavier tight end sends. However, it’s looking like he’ll be out again.
The two-tight end sets should still be in play to slow down the Miami front and create some opportunities in the passing game out of power formations. Boyle needs to be an active chipper and extra blocker to help control Cameron Wake off the right side. If the Ravens go to a three-tight, one-wide look, Darren Waller has the ability to flex out wide (and will be a mismatch against any of the Miami LBs), with Dennis Pitta as the slot guy underneath.
In early-down situations especially, using heavier sets will give the offense extra protection and present some unique matchup opportunities for the tight ends to exploit.
3. Control the Clock: The pressure has been on the Miami offense. In their last two matchups, despite not running the ball nearly effectively as they had in past weeks, the Dolphins were able to pass against the Rams and the 49ers to keep their offense afloat. For an offense that hadn’t generated many big plays downfield, the plays were there when they needed them.
The Ravens have the formula on defense to keep the Dolphins in a catch-up position when it comes to down-and-distance, but it won’t make a difference if the offense isn’t able to convert in third-down situations to take advantage. Baltimore has simply been abysmal on third down all season, ranking dead last with a 33.3% conversion rate.
First and foremost, the Ravens have to do a better job of winning against man coverage in third-down. The Miami corners, Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett are exploitable in man coverage, but the Ravens will need to dial up more hard-stop route combinations like back-shoulders and even work in some double moves. They need to take more chances downfield and Flacco has to display better accuracy when he’s trying to fit the ball into tight windows.
1. Win the Early Down Matchup: As we continue the discussion of winning the third-down battle, for the defense, it comes down to their ability to stop the run on early downs and force quarterback Ryan Tannehill to win in third-and-long situations.
To this point, Miami has done a better job of avoiding those longer conversion scenarios because they’ve stayed on schedule with their running game. That being said, the Dolphins’ ground attack has stalled the last two weeks, and third-down conversion efficiency is just a shade better than the Ravens at 34.9%.
Limiting tailback Jay Ajayi will be paramount to putting Tannehill in the types of obvious passing situations that he’s been able to stay out of this season. Unlike the 49ers – who had to sell out to stop the run – the Ravens shouldn’t have to show as many loaded fronts to get the job done. They need to be able to stop the run with seven and maintain their back-end integrity.
2. Open Field Tackling: A big factor for why the Dolphins’ ground attack has been successful this season? Ajayi has been tremendous at gaining yards after contact. According to stats collected by the Miami Herald, the relentless tailback ranks fifth amongst all other RBs with 553 yards after contact, and he’s forced 36 missed tackles, ranking third in the league in that category.
Even last week in a dreadful performance against the San Francisco 49ers (one of the worst run defenses we’ve seen in quite some time), 38 of Ajayi’s 45 total rush yards were yards gained after contact.
The second-year back runs with a violent, downhill running style that really works well behind an imposing group of linemen. He doesn’t stop moving his legs in an effort to push a pile. The Baltimore defense will need to limit the amount of times they miss Ajayi in the hole. When he does make the first defender miss, the rest of defense has to swarm to the ball and maintain their pad levels to keep him from bouncing off tackles.
3. Creating Inside Rush Mismatch Opportunities: If the Ravens are able to create more third-and-obvious passing situations, it will set up additional opportunities to test a Miami offensive line that has been banged up over the last three weeks. While rookie Laremy Tunsil and left tackle Branden Albert look to get back on track for this game, center Mike Pouncey is another story. Guard Jermon Bushrod has also been limited with a calf injury.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been using edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil as stunters and loopers from an outside, standup rush position, and they’ve been able to make their presence felt. He should continue to create favorable matchups for the OLBs to work from the inside so they can use their speed and challenge the Dolphins’ ailing interior linemen. Look for Pees to also continue mixing different line games (stunts, twists, loops) to keep the Miami pass protectors off balance.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Right Tackle Rick Wagner versus Defensive End Cameron Wake
Wake has certainly been one of the leading Battle Plans spotlight players over the years. I can’t recall too many matchups I’ve written about concerning Miami without mentioning one of the most feared edge rushers in the game. The Dolphins’ top defender wasn’t even supposed to start the season, but he simply produces year in and year out, and is coming off a game in which he generated five QB hurries and a sack against the 49ers.
With Wake, it’s all about leverage. He’s outstanding at getting lower than his man and using his lower body strength to overpower his opponents. Wagner has been solid all season as a pass blocker after struggling in 2015. He’s got his work cut out for him against Wake. He’ll need to refrain from lunging too many times and maintain his balance to keep the surging rusher at bay.