Wild Card Playoff Preview: Ravens @ Dolphins
First off, I gotta say that it’s a pleasure to be putting together our first playoff preview here at the Nest, in our 2nd year of existence. What seemed like a near impossibility at the beginning of the season has unexpectedly came to pass – the Ravens are in the post-season, and look poised to make some noise. Even more surprising though, is the Ravens’ first-round opponent, the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins, just 1-15 (and we all remember the 1, right?) a season ago, have put together a turnaround that makes, what the Ravens engineered, pale in comparison. Furthermore, that these two teams are now meeting in the first round of the playoffs is a testament to the fact that NFL really does stand for “Not For Long.” They should both be commended for making it to their 17th games of 2008, but only one of them will earn the right to play an 18th.
The Ravens and Dolphins are both white-hot entering the postseason. Baltimore has won 2 in a row, 9 of 11, and 4 of 5 on the road. Miami, meanwhile, has strung together 5 straight to close the season, and won 9 of their final 10 games after losing to the Ravens in Week 7. Impressive, no doubt. However, let’s take a closer look at that 9/10 streak.
- Week 10: Miami 21 Seattle 19.
- Week 11: Miami 17 Oakland 15
- Week 12: New England 48 Miami 28
- Week 13: Miami 16 St. Louis 12
- Week 14: Miami 14 San Francisco 9
- Week 16: Miami 38 Kansas City 31
Now, a win is a win in the NFL. But did they really beat the Seahawks (4-12), Raiders (5-11), Rams (2-14), and Chiefs (2-14) by a grand total of 15 points? I’m sorry, but they deserve to get called out on that. Also, in an important division game against the Patriots, they got their tail fins handed to them. Bill Belichick, a
huge cheater defensive-minded coach, was not surprised by the “Wildcat” the 2nd go round, and stuffed it cold. We have a pretty sound defensive staff here in B’More, and the Ravens had absolutely no trouble stopping the Wildcat back in October. As Ray Lewis says, “they still have to line up and play football.”
Chad Pennington, who won his 2nd “NFL Comeback Player of the Year” in 3 years (um…hey dork. how about you stop “going away?”), manages the game for Miami. He threw 19 TDs to go with only 7 INTs, for a 97.4 rating – good for 2nd in the league. The Dolphins as a team were very stingy, tying an NFL 16-game record in turning the ball over just 13 times. The turnover battle will be a match-up of strengths in this one, as the Ravens led the league with 37 takeaways. AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December, Ed Reed, was tops in the NFL with 9 interceptions.
Ronnie Brown paces the Dolphins on the ground. Brown ran for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008, but Ricky Williams provides a good 2nd option, as he went for another 659 yards. Miami’s leading receiver, Ted Ginn Jr., caught 56 balls for 790 yards and 2 TDs.
The Ravens’ Joe Flacco has been very impressive on the road in his rookie season. If the Ravens want to see this postseason run go anywhere, he will have to continue to do so, and do so with the pressure turned up another level. Flacco was sacked twice by our old friend Joey Porter in Week 7, but turned in a strong 232-yard, 1 TD performance. Willis McGahee loves going home to play in South Beach, and he racked up 105 yards and 1 TD against the fish in the 1st meeting, and also nearly scored on a long screen pass before fumbling. Since that first meeting, though, the Ravens’ other backs have stepped up. Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain wound up leading the team with 902 yards and 10 TDs, and rookie Ray Rice’s 4.2 ypc was tops among the three. Rice, who missed the last 3 games, is expected to return to action Sunday.
The Dolphins are most vulnerable through the air, though, allowing nearly 230 ypg. Derrick Mason has been Flacco’s favorite target all year, as evidenced by his 80 catches and 1037 yards. Joe Cool has been getting more and more comfortable with Mark Clayton recently though, and Clayton will need to show up consistently for the Ravens to keep playing. He had only 1 catch for 13 yards in the first meeting. The Dolphins had 41 sacks on the season to the Ravens’ 34, so Flacco will need to safely take sacks when the situation calls for it (his tendency to still fumble on every sack really worries us).
All year the Ravens have had no problem beating up on lesser teams. The Miami Dolphins, despite their equal record, ARE a lesser team. The Dolphins have shown that they have trouble even with the teams they are supposed to beat. To their credit, they win those games…but this is the Playoffs, and this “little engine that could” crap comes to a screeching halt, courtesy of the purple-and-black.
Ravens 31 Dolphins 13