Keys to Victory
1. Protection First
As much as the Miami offense has had their issues all season, their defensive front remains a source of strength. Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh are heavyweight game-wreckers who need to be accounted for in the protection scheme. Wake has been especially dominant over the last two games and doesn’t seem to age.
The Ravens are coming off a game in which they were crushed by the Minnesota pass rush. The Vikings came every which way – from overwhelming the front through overload blitzes to overpowering the line through simple straight-man rushes. Baltimore had no answers, and because the offense was in so many predictable third-down situations, they couldn’t devote as many extra blockers to help tackles Ronnie Stanley and Austin Howard with chip blocks. Stanley played his worst game of the season and couldn’t keep Everson Griffen from wreaking havoc.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to go back to the same protection approach he used to keep Khalil Mack at bay against the Raiders – more six and seven-man protections and more three-man route combinations downfield, with the occasional delayed releases from the backs underneath.
That scheme worked well to keep Joe Flacco upright to let routes develop downfield against Oakland. Against Wake and Suh, protection needs to be emphasized first in obvious passing situations, and with more time, the receivers can run more double-move routes against a Miami secondary that tends to bite.
2. Get the Ball Out Quick and Target the LBs
Remember last year’s aerial assault from Dennis Pitta against the Miami backers? In that game, the Ravens targeted the middle of the field consistently to exploit the matchup advantage they had inside the numbers.
Despite the addition of linebacker Lawrence Timmons and the resurgence of Kiko Alonso, Miami is still hit or miss when it comes to defending tight ends and pass-catching backs. Last week, New York tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and tailback Matt Forte were able to nickel and dime the Dolphin backers underneath for short gains to keep the pass rush mostly contained in the first half.
The key for the Jets was that they got the ball out quick. Inside crossing patterns from two and three-tight sets can be effective to force the Miami linebackers to chase horizontally and create more opportunities for Flacco to find some outlet receptions, particularly on first down, so he can jumpstart the offense. Mornhinweg needs to put Flacco in more positions to throw on first and target the middle of the field.
3. Pre-Snap Motion to Create Intersecting Route Combinations
Despite all of the shortcomings of the offense, one positive that stood out was the use of pre-snap motion to create more separation against man coverage. For instance, on the quick slant completion to Mike Wallace that ultimately resulted in Wallace getting his head taken off by safety Andrew Sandejo, receiver Michael Campanaro motioned from the backfield and ran an out pattern to force the slot corner to pick him up. Once the slot corner ran with Campanaro, Wallace had enough space to run his slant pattern, as the outside corner trailing Wallace had to maneuver around the slot corner moving in his direction. The route combination created a natural pick action.
It was the movement from Campanaro coming out of the backfield that made the play a success. Campanaro also found space on other routes as the motion man, whether he started from the backfield or from the opposite side of the field altogether. The Ravens may need another man-in-motion tonight however, as Campanaro is listed as doubtful.
That said, Mornhinweg hit on something with these route combinations and they need to be in play more often against the Dolphins, especially when they show man coverage.
1. Deep Ball Discipline
You would think with Jay Culter at the helm, Miami would have been a gun-slinging, downfield passing attack that took more chances. Maybe it’s because receiver DeVante Parker (QUESTIONABLE: Ankle) has been missing in action the last few weeks, or maybe it’s because the Miami pass protection has been under siege, but Cutler wasn’t ripping the ball like he typically has. Instead, before he broke his ribs, Culter was comfortable getting the ball out quick and targeting underneath screens and quick-hitters.
With Matt Moore taking over for Cutler, the dynamic will change. Moore will hold the ball longer and let routes develop downfield to make the big play. With Moore at QB, receiver Kenny Stills (one of the best deep threats in the game) becomes even more dangerous.
The back end has to anticipate that Moore will wait longer in the pocket and buy some time for the deep routes to uncover downfield. This is the type of game in which the safeties need to stay disciplined with their deep coverage technique and not let their eyes stray into the backfield as Moore moves around.
Moreover, defensive coordinator Dean Pees should consider playing zone coverage combinations behind his pressure packages, although the defensive backs and linebackers need to do a better job of jamming the receivers before they release.
2. Breaking Down the Pass Protection
Ravens fans think they’ve had it rough with their offensive line woes, but imagine being a Miami fan and seeing their highly-touted line falter week after week? Like Baltimore, the Dolphins have faced their share of injuries. Starting left guard Anthony Steen is already ruled out for tonight’s game. Laremy Tunsil (who is questionable) and Mike Pouncey have battled through injuries. Still, for a line with three former first-round picks, they’ve been an absolute disappointment.
In particular, Tunsil and right tackle Ja’Wuan James have struggled the most in pass pro. Tunsil and James haven’t been able to hold up in one-on-one blocking situations and they’ve also struggled to handle the blitz from the slot and overload looks. On the interior, the story has been a failure to pass off stunts and twists.
It’s not as if the Ravens have exactly been lighting the world on fire with their rush schemes. Pees continues to run all-out blitzes that get tipped off well before the snap so the QB can make the right pre-snap adjustment. Still, there’s an opportunity to get on point in this game against an injured group that’s been taken to school all year long.
Against Miami, he needs to run more exchanges and deceptive rushes from the edges (just as the Jets did a week ago) to get the Miami line to slide the wrong way and make mistakes with their assignments. This is clearly a group that lacks any form of cohesion and discipline. As he did in one third-and-10 sequence, Pees needs to fake the overload from either the weak or the strongside and bring the rush from the other side. Stunts and twists using Matt Judon as the looping inside rusher should also be part of the game plan.
3. Limiting Ajayi in the Open Field
It doesn’t matter what the stats say about Ajayi’s performance to this point in the season. The Ravens know firsthand what the violent runner can do. In a game that quickly got out of hand, Ajayi gashed the Baltimore front for nearly six yards per clip in 2016. If the offense didn’t steamroll Miami’s defense, Ajayi would have steamrolled a tired and broken run defense first.
Fast forward a year later, and this run D for Baltimore (ranked dead last in the league) continues to show itself to be overrated, even with the return of Brandon Williams. From bad run fits to linebackers not being able to get off blocks to the edge defenders playing without discipline to safeties missing tackles to the nickel defense getting exposed, there’s been a tornado of problems all season.
Seeing Ajayi, even behind a battered line, isn’t a welcomed sight. Ajayi has especially given the defense fits in the open field where he’s been able to make defenders miss. The backers and defensive backs have to be much better tackling Ajayi to keep the chunk plays contained and force the Dolphins to be a one-dimensional offense.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Kenny Stills versus Jimmy Smith
There are a few things the Ravens can count on, and one of them is the play of Smith this season. The cornerback play on whole has been terrific, but Smith has been playing shutdown football. We’ve seen this from Smith in stretches during his career. He’s been so good that offenses aren’t targeting him. That could very well change with the Stills-to-Moore connection. Stills has been on fire the last couple of weeks and he’s a favorite target of Moore’s on deep balls. Smith should have help over the top to keep Stills contained. But he’ll also need to be sound in his footwork and handwork to keep the fast WR from creating separation on hitches, comebacks, and stop routes.