Last year’s trip to Miami marked the turning point for the 2021 Ravens.
Even on a short week, Baltimore was 6-2 and confident facing the lowly 2-7 Dolphins before that shocking 22-10 loss that changed the complexion of the season. Yes, the Ravens managed to win their next two games, but they never truly recovered from that Thursday nightmare as Lamar Jackson continued to struggle and injured his ankle in Week 14. As the injuries continued to pile up, Baltimore would lose its final six games to miss the playoffs.
That we’re still talking about Miami’s Cover 0 blitzes, looks, and simulated pressures from that night speaks to Sunday being an important litmus test for Jackson and a Ravens team aiming for a 2-0 start. Knowing the NFL’s copycat nature, Baltimore needs to have an answer this time around to calm concerns about Jackson handling the blitz, something he was successful doing earlier in his career.
“We would have been negligent if we hadn’t worked on it,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the Dolphins’ Cover 0 looks. “It was something we needed to get a lot better at, and we studied it the whole offseason. We’ll have a plan for it and hope it works because these guys are probably the best in the league at doing it right now. They do it more than anybody, they do it better than anybody, and it’s just something they’re committed to.
“I have all the respect in the world for what they’re doing defensively. They’re very physical, they play hard, they’re tough up front.”
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Miami meet for the 16th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an 8-7 advantage as well as wins in both postseason encounters. The Dolphins haven’t won a game in Charm City since 1997 when these teams met at Memorial Stadium and Hall of Famer Dan Marino was still their quarterback.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Mark Andrews will catch a quick strike over the middle for a 50-plus-yard touchdown. The Dolphins hardly sent the house on every play in last year’s meeting, but the key to combating a defense that blitzed on 60% of your dropbacks is to make them pay for it. There’s no shortage of ways to counter Cover 0 — it’s not some revolutionary defense — but any kind of rub or mesh route threatens to go all the way with no safety help. After not having a pass play of 50 or more yards all last season, registering one for a second straight week should get Miami to back off a bit.
2. Jaylen Waddle and Chase Edmonds will each catch a touchdown for Miami. Without knowing who suits up at cornerback, the matchup with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Waddle ranges from challenging to frightening, but the Ravens becoming more of a two-high safety team should help prevent the home-run play, especially with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa lacking a big-time arm. Baltimore did an impressive job stopping Hill in last year’s win over Kansas City, but the variables are so different now that it’s difficult to make too much of that. Sure tackling is an absolute necessity against these speedsters, but Edmonds is another legitimate weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, which will challenge the likes of Patrick Queen, Chuck Clark, and Kyle Hamilton in coverage.
3. Jackson will lead Baltimore in rushing attempts and yards. It’s way too soon to panic, but a previously historic ground game — that still finished 11th in efficiency last year despite using a motley crew of past-their-prime backs — producing its lowest rushing total in a game started by Jackson raises eyebrows. The Miami front held New England — a strong running team last year — to 3.5 yards per carry, so the Ravens need to get Jackson more involved as a rusher after only a few designed runs for him last week. Until J.K. Dobbins returns and looks like his old self, Jackson remains the most explosive rushing weapon the Ravens have by a wide margin. The former MVP quarterback won’t go crazy on the ground, but he’ll eclipse double-digit carries and 70 yards.
4. Odafe Oweh will record two sacks in a breakout performance. A quiet Week 1 compared to the way the rest of Baltimore’s front dominated the New York Jets shouldn’t diminish enthusiasm for Oweh, who often looked like the best player on the field during training camp. After the Dolphins placed right tackle Austin Jackson on injured reserve, Oweh — or Justin Houston — will have a favorable matchup with backup Greg Little, which should spell trouble for the lefty Tagovailoa’s blind side. And with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead also hampered by a toe issue, the Ravens’ front should have a chance to really disrupt for a second consecutive week. Oweh will announce his second-year presence with authority on Sunday.
5. A late takeaway will preserve a 23-17 win for the Ravens. Especially considering the health concerns, I’m not crazy about this matchup for Baltimore, but having the superior quarterback and the home-field advantage goes a long way in a clash between two AFC teams figuring to be in the thick of the playoff race all year. Though Jackson and the Ravens won’t have all the answers for Miami’s talented defense, they’ll make enough plays to keep the Dolphins more honest this time around. Ultimately, I see the Baltimore defense coming up big in crunch time with Calais Campbell forcing a strip-sack to thwart a Miami drive in the closing minutes. It won’t be easy, but the Ravens will improve to 14-1 in home openers under Harbaugh.