The Baltimore Ravens enter their week 9 game against the Miami Dolphins in 1st place in the AFC North, yet they are still searching for their identity on offense. At the start of the season theoffense was widely considered the most balanced and talented offense since the inception of the Ravens franchise. Through 7 games the Ravens are ranked 15th in the NFL in passing yards at just over 225 per game and 12th running the ball at just under 115 yards per game. The Ravens are also averaging just over 21 points per game. Not exactly as productive as many expected, but it appears that the Ravens are improving on offense. To their credit the Ravens have played 4 road games against play-off teams from a year ago and have had to work 3 new receivers and 2 rookie tight ends into the offense. The goal for the Ravens in the 2nd half of their season is identifying the areas for improvement and becoming a more efficient offense. Let’s take a look at how the Ravens can begin to do that against the Dolphins this week.
Through the Air: In many ways Joe Flacco has carried the Ravens offense in recent weeks. He leads the NFL in QB rating since week 3 and has 9 td passes against just 1 pick over the same span. Flacco continues to make strides in his third season, but the question remains whether or not he is ready to be a top tier QB. He is not there yet, some question if he can ever get there, but can he step his game up even more before the season ends. Despite the good numbers, the Ravens offense has stumbled in the 4th quarter of a few games and some of the blame has to fall on Flacco. The Dolphins only allow 208 yards per game through the air, but they have allowed 2 300 yard passers in the passed 3 weeks. The Ravens aerial attack has been good at home this year and this week the Ravens will need to be efficient through the air to beat the Dolphins. A big key will be protecting Flacco. Miami has 17 sacks through their first 7 games and have a dynamic pass rusher in Cameron Wake. If they can contain Wake, there will be open spaces for an experienced group of Ravens receivers. The Ravens also add the element of a deep threat with the return of Donte Stallworth. I am curious to see how much of the field Stallworth sees in his first game back. He posses speed that the other wide-outs do not have, but the Ravens rarely go four wide and they have to worry about keeping the other 3 guys happy. The Ravens need a big game from Jersey Joe and I think the way they match up with Miami’s defense should allow him to put up numbers.
On the Ground: The Dolphins defense seems to be a bit more stingy against opposing running games. They have bottled up Rashard Mendenhall and Cedric Benson in back to back games, but they are also playing their 2nd straight road games and 3rd in a row against an AFC North opponent. The Ravens have featured a good rushing attack early this season, but it is not as good as many expected. Teams seem to be geared towards limiting Ray Rice more than they were a year ago and the Ravens offensive line has not been as good at run blocking with Michael Oher at LT and Marshall Yanda at RT as opposed to RG. Rice has been good at getting tough yards, but the big plays have been few and far between for the elusive back. The Ravens run inside the majority of the time, I am curious to see if they can get Rice on the perimeter and in space to take advantage of his quickness. The Ravens will also look to wear down the Miami defensive front with Willis McGahee and potentially Le’Ron McClain, who have had good games against the Dolphins in previous years. The Ravens need to keep Miami honest by running the ball effectively and use it to set up big games off play action.
Coming off a bye week, being at home against a team playing their 2nd straight game on the road should mean good things for the Ravens. I think Stallworth will add a new dimension to the passing attack, that will make it hard for the Dolphins to call all of Flacco’s options. Look for the Ravens to control the line of scrimmage on offense and put up in the range of 27 points. What is your prediction for the Ravens offense this week?