I believe Sunday's game with the Ravens is truly a toss up. That speaks to how much respect the Dolphins have gained from a year ago ... and how weakened the Ravens are (particularly on offense) from a season ago when they won the Super Bowl.
Here's how I break it down:
When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins have won four consecutive home games and it’s no coincidence Ryan Tannehill likes the venue because in his last three home games, the quarterback has completed 67 percent of his throws and has six TD passes against only one interception. All three Miami wide outs – Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson have enjoyed past success against the Ravens. The Baltimore secondary is without Ed Reed, but the Ravens haven’t suffered in their third-down efficiency, ranking sixth in the NFL on that key passing down. The Dolphins are tied for worst in the NFL protecting their quarterback, yielding 18 sacks. Terrell Suggs is on a tear with four sacks and 10 QB hits. Oh boy. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins run the football: Lamar Miller is averaging 5.8 yards per carry the last three games and has a touchdown in two of the past three games. The Dolphins running game has enjoyed slow but steady improvement since the season-opener. But the Dolphins simply don’t run that often. The Dolphins are rushing the football 33 percent of the time not factoring the scramble runs by Tannehill. The Ravens rush defense is statistically mediocre – 16th in the NFL. With nose tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive end Chris Canty and linebacker Daryl Smith all playing well the Ravens should be better against the run. Obviously, they’re not maximizing in this department. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
When the Ravens run the football: The Ravens offensive line is not playing as well as it did last year during their Super Bowl run despite being mostly intact from that time. Perhaps the team really misses center Matt Birk. There’s no doubt left tackle Bryant McKinnie, overweight and getting older, is not playing well and is getting replaced by recently acquired Eugene Monroe. Running back Ray Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl player and the second-leading rusher in club history, is suddenly ineffective. Rice is averaging only 3.0 yards per carry and getting fewer touches than Bernard Pierce. The Ravens have promised to get Rice more involved and as his abilities somewhat resemble those of Darren Sproles, who gashed the Dolphins last week, that may is not good news for Miami. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Ravens pass the football: Joe Flacco had a terrible day last week against Buffalo, throwing five interceptions against a secondary missing three of four starters. That has not been Flacco’s history against the Dolphins, however, because in two previous meetings he’s thrown three TD passes without an interception and posted a 125.3 quarterback rating. If he has a similar game this time, history says the Dolphins lose because the Ravens are 28-3 when Flacco’s rating is over 100. The Ravens are diminished on the outside with the loss of Anquan Bolden. Torrey Smith is their only consistent weapon. The Miami secondary is still smarting from last week’s toasting at the hands of Drew Brees and help is not on the way because starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson is going to miss his fourth consecutive game. Watch out for the Ray Rice vs. Phillip Wheeler match up. ADVANTAGE: Ravens.
Special teams: The Ravens were outstanding on special teams last season and if you don’t think so, recall that kickoff return touchdown by Jacoby Jones in the Super Bowl. Jones has been injured much of this year and the special teams play was a nightmare in the season-opener, but the Ravens are still pretty good. Tandon Doss has a Week 3 punt return TD. These two teams also cover pretty well, with the Ravens holding a slight edge on punts and the Dolphins holding a slight edge on kickoffs. In a game that may come down to a field goal, Caleb Sturgis has so far been more accurate on long-range kicks than Justin Tucker. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Coaching: This is a study of differing approaches. Last week both teams suffered painful losses. Baltimore coach Jim Harbaugh publicly challenged his offensive line, vowed to make changes concerning the use of his running back and basically sent the message that things were not right and needed fixing. Miami coach Joe Philbin kept calm, isn’t making any big lineup changes and certainly has not challenged anyone publicly, not even an offensive line that has allowed 18 sacks. No idea which approach is better. We’ll see. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Intangibles: Which team is less tolerant of tough times? Both had a tough week following bad losses. The pride of both teams is being measured now. Who responds? OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Even.