This week’s game against the Miami Dolphins kicks off a difficult stretch of games for the Ravens before the bye week: Green Bay Packers at home next week, and then a rivalry game against the current winless Steelers in Pittsburgh.
It sure would bode well for the 2-2-Ravens to win today’s game.
Here are this week’s plotlines.
For the Ravens to establish the run, which I believe is the plan this week, they will need to keep the disruptive trio of Starks, Odrick, and Soliai in check. All are big and strong, with Starks and Odrick adding speed to the mix.
Former Maryland Terrapin Starks is having a stellar season in his 10th year. So is 4th year player Odrick. They are faring better as pass rushers compared to run defenders, both collapsing the pocket from the inside and creating quarterback hurries. But, both are playing the run well too. They are among team leaders in defensive stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
Soliai is having a strong season as a run stuffer. According to Pro Football Focus, he grades highly as a run defender and a pass rusher, but he mainly plays on run downs.
It starts up front. If this trio starts controlling the line of scrimmage, this will be another long day at the office for the Ravens.
Touches for Rice
After a game in which Ray Rice had nine carries against the Bills, most assume the Ravens are going to try and get their play-making running back more involved in the gameplan against the Dolphins. The Ravens have a history of feeding him the ball the week after he doesn’t see the ball very much.
Regardless of how the offensive line plays, Rice needs to keep grinding. He is too talented to continue to produce at the level he is producing. There are times when the offensive line provides an opening yet Rice dances in the backfield or is indecisive when hitting the hole.
Rice needs touches in the run game and pass game. Pound the rock at times, put him in the slot as a receiver, and use him in the screen game. No matter what, keep him involved.
Bounce Back for Flacco?
Quarterback Joe Flacco has a history of playing well following a dreadful performance the week before. And there are no bones about it, last week he played as dreadful as one can play.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com pointed out that in the game following a loss, Flacco has a 20-7 record, a 95.2 passer rating, a 64.2 completion percentage, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
With an injured wide receiver corps, I think we will see more 22 personnel this week with Ravens pounding the ball. But if and when they go to their 11 personnel, I expect Flacco to carve up the 24th-ranked defense to extend drives and produce points.
Pressure the Quarterback
Put pressure on Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill and he struggles. He has been sacked a league leading 18 times, and when he is pressured it often leads to a sack.
Pro Football Focus tracks the number of plays a quarterback is pressured and they chart the percentage of those pressures that lead to a sack. Tannehill leads the league—32.7% of the plays he is pressured lead to a sack. Put pressure on Tannehill and good things may happen for the defense.
I think Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will apply too much pressure off the edges against offensive tackles Tyson Clabo and Jonathan Martin. They will force Tannehill into a few key mistakes.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
Last week against Buffalo, we saw a glimpse of what the offseason hub-hub was about for Deonte Thompson. I think he makes a play in the pass game that will turn out to be a game-changer this week against the Dolphins.