If someone told me that Miami would be holding the sixth seed for the playoffs in Week 13 after going 1-4 in the first five games, I would have replied that Tiger Woods has a better chance of coming back to the PGA than the Dolphins fighting for a playoff spot. Yet, here we are. The Dolphins are set to take on the Ravens this weekend, and they currently hold the second wild-card spot. Oh, and Tiger is looking to make a comeback after what seems like years of being away from golf.
But enough about Tiger – Miami is on a roll. Yes, that win against San Francisco was closer than it should have been, but there is an old saying that goes something like “your record shows who you are as a team”. The Dolphins are 7-4, and they have a great opportunity to make a push for the playoffs. Yes, I said it, PLAYOFFS. Do I believe that Miami can actually make the playoffs? Yes. Does that mean there are no longer holes to fix on both sides of the ball? Absolutely not. The Dolphins run defense still gives up big plays, and the patched up offensive line cannot produce the same type of run game as when the o-line is healthy.
Despite their issues, Miami is finding ways to win and finish out close games. The Dolphins will need every bit of that closing ability as they head to Baltimore this Sunday to play the Ravens. These Dolphin-Baltimore games have been competitive for about the last five match-ups now. Miami will need to capitalize on a couple of key factors on both sides of the ball to keep going late in the season.
A Healthy Offensive Line:
Left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil are planning to make their comebacks from injury this Sunday. While Miami got by without Albert, Tunsil or Mike Pouncey for the past two weeks, Miami is going to need every starter possible on the offensive line to be successful against a stingy Raven defense.
Baltimore’s defense is ranked 2nd overall and 1st in defending the run, giving up an average of only 74.9 yards a game. While that may seem like a reason to avoid the run at all costs, a run game is needed against a strong defense to make room for the passing the game. While Jay Ajayi will likely not be putting up 200 rushing yards against the Ravens, if the offensive line can get enough of a push to give Ajayi 4-5 yard chunks consistently, that will be enough to give Ryan Tannehill and the receivers a chance to be successful passing the football.
DeVante Parker and the Pass Game:
During the third quarter of last week’s game, wide receiver DeVante Parker came down awkwardly after jumping for a catch and ended up injuring his back. Parker has missed the last two practices per team reports, and he is doubtful to make a return this Sunday.
Even if the run game is successful, losing Parker could drastically hurt the passing game. Parker was finally starting to show his big play-making ability these past two weeks, and he could easily become Tannehill’s number one target. However, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills have continued to make plays as well, so they must step up and show that they can get it done even without the athletic 6’3″ target in Parker.
Stop the Run:
I have said this in probably 80 percent of my previews and I will continue to say it as long as it is a factor. Miami’s defense must find a way to limit the big runs. Last week, Colin Kaepernick looked like a running back out there after the Dolphins gave up over 100 yards to him alone. The Ravens may be one of the worst rushing teams since they only average 87.8 rushing yards a game, but that is not a guarantee that there will not be any large gains.
What I am seeing in games is a young group of linebackers that do not sit in their gap coverage on runs but rather try to shoot the gap and end up leaving a gaping hole for the opposing running back. This defensive line is getting off their blocks on run plays. Rather than trying to shoot the gap, these Miami linebackers need to learn to be patient and make the tackle after the running back crosses the line of scrimmage to prevent a big gain. If they start doing that, the linebackers will start having better opportunities to make plays in defending the run.
Stop Mike Wallace:
Wide receiver Mike Wallace had his worst season last year in Minnesota since he was only able to pull in 473 yards receiving. After heading to the Ravens in the offseason, Wallace has found his groove again and is now the leading receiver for Baltimore.
A major factor is the guy throwing him the football. While some may consider Joe Flacco the most overrated quarterback in the game (my pick is Cam Newton), there is no doubt that his cannon for an arm is a plus for speedy receivers. While Wallace may have floundered as a Dolphin, it would be unwise to overlook his big-playmaking skills for the Ravens offense.
An important note is that Miami has fared quite well in defending the deep ball. Antonio Brown, Tavon Austin and Torrey Smith were all limited to under 50 yards receiving in their games against Miami. Wallace is also a player who does not fare well against contact, so hopefully defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has cornerback Byron Maxwell covering Wallace for most of the game.
Despite these past two close wins against mediocre teams, I feel rather confident in Miami going up against Baltimore. Getting Albert and Tunsil back will prove to be a big push that the offense needs, and this defense will get the job done against an offense that is struggling to find the end zone.
Also, the Dolphins are just as competitive on the road as they have been at home. If the weather in Maryland is fair and nice on Sunday, the home-field advantage aspect for the Ravens will prove to be useless.
Prediction – Miami: 17 Ravens: 6