Dolphins' Objectives To Beat Baltimore Thursday
The Miami Dolphins have got to – absolutely must – show up in full force Thursday night if they want to overcome Baltimore, and, by so doing, to claim the lead in the AFC with a 5-2 record.
That proverbial row got a lot longer and more difficult to hoe, of course, after last Sunday night’s win over the Jets, when starting quarterback Jay Cutler went down in the second half with several cracked ribs. Cutler was the only thing really keeping the Dolphins (4-2) afloat on offense this year, but the team still ranks in the league’s bottom third in that metric. That’s why the fact that the Ravens (3-4) are nearly as bad-off when it comes to offensive stats this year and even more banged up is of little comfort to Miami.
For starters, Miami has got to perform offensively in this crucial mid-to-late regular season game. Filling in for Cutler, at least for Thursday night, is 33-year-old Matt Moore, whose primary targets in the game are going to be Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, the latter of which suffered a knee injury against the New York Jets but will nevertheless play at Baltimore. Moore, well known in the NFL for his preference for the long-distance pass, really needs to connect with a couple of those, especially if the Ravens stack eight defenders on him in an attempt to shut down the de facto linchpin in what is already a bare-bones offensive scheme.
Next, Miami’s offensive line has got to double down on protecting Jay Ajayi, who is the only credible running threat in the Dolphins’ arsenal. The trouble is, Ajayi needs to seriously up his game from a woeful 3.5-rush per carry average if the Fish are going to find a way to eke out at least 100 yards on the night of Oct. 26. That doesn’t look too hard on the face of it, with Baltimore giving up 145 yards per game so far this year (and 4.4 yards per carry to boot), but that was minus Brandon Willison, the brutally effective starting nose tackle, who returned last week against the Vikings and gave them fits.
Thirdly, outside of keeping the running backs safe given what has to be a renewed focus on the ground game, the Dolphins’ o-line needs to harden up generally. That could be hard to come by, however, as no fewer than four of the five starting Miami linemen are injured going into Thursday’s game and they weren’t exactly blowing up the world with their efficacy when they were 100 percent health-wise. This toughening-up is critical because the Dolphins offensive linemen will be up against what is by all accounts a decently strong d-line that is no slouch, being led Terrell Suggs – and his 4.5 sacks this season.
We’ve laid out a stiff bill for Miami’s offense so far, but the Dolphins defense isn’t off the hook either. Miami’s defensemen need to pen up Baltimore starting tailback Alex Collins, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry in 62 attempts, and he’s proven to be a reliable source of at least one really long run every time he starts. The Dolphins’ defense has held their opponents to a little more than 82 rushing yards per game, so it’s not impossible that they could continue the trend against Baltimore, but a lot will ride on keeping Collins in check.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Dolphins can’t sleep on Joe Flacco, who has battled back into the starting role as Baltimore’s QB after suffering a back injury in the pre-preseason. Though he’s healed up, the missed reps in training camp and the preseason games has taken its toll as the 10-year NFL vet is currently going through his worst season ever, with a career-low passing average and eight interceptions so far this year. Those are not great stats by any means, but Flacco is, has been, and will likely continue to keep being just as aggressive as always – and Flacco loves the long pass almost as much as his receivers like Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace would love to catch one.
All these factors have doubtless go in to the bookie’s appreciation of the game, and the handicapping reveals some interesting extra details about the possibilities for the contest. Baltimore has moneyline odds of -140, but those are not sure-thing chances by any means, especially considering Miami has odds of +120 to do the deed. More interesting is that Bovada’s oddsmakers have written the spread betting line with a 3-point handicap on Baltimore and given the Ravens -105 to cover. Miami is more likely to win or lose by less than a field goal according to Bovada’s bookies, who list the Dolphins’ odds at -115.
The point is, there are many factors going into Thursday night’s game, and Miami, if it wants to continue its winning ways and – the hope is – seal the deal on a post-season berth, has got to handle the delicate balancing act if it wants to fell Baltimore. The Ravens have basically got two objections, by comparison, stop the deep pass and run the ball as much and as fast as their man can do it. Which of these scenarios is more likely is a question we won’t know the answers to until late Thursday night, but it might be a good idea to get in on the action while the betting lines are still open – by tomorrow morning you may wish you had.
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