Pundits Are All*in* on Ravens to Handle Dolphins
The last time the Ravens played in Miami, Lamar Jackson embarrassed his critics, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown had a debut for the ages, and the Ravens set a franchise record for points scored in a game.
It's unlikely the Ravens (6-2) could top that performance when they visit the Dolphins (2-7) tonight, but all 34 pundits who got their picks in by this morning are in agreement that the AFC North leaders will take care of business in Miami.
Fifteen of the 18 pundits who predicted the score have the Ravens winning by double digits, including six who think Baltimore will win by at least 20 points.
There's no denying the Ravens, who are favored by 7.5 points, have had the Dolphins' number in recent years. Baltimore has won the past three meetings by a combined score of 137-16 and won eight of nine meetings during the John Harbaugh era.
That includes 2019's season-opening 59-10 victory. In that game, Jackson threw five touchdown passes and had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating, while rushing just three times for six yards.
"Not bad for a running back," Jackson famously said after the game.
Two of Jackson's touchdown passes were to Brown for 47 and 83 yards. They were Brown's first two catches as a Raven.
But that was then, and as Harbaugh has said repeatedly, the NFL is a week to week league. Just ask the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys, who both suffered stunning upset losses last Sunday.
Moreover, the last time the Ravens were heavy favorites on the road (they were favored by eight at Detroit in Week 3), they needed a record-setting, 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to escape with a 19-17 win.
Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:
The Dolphins don't match up well with the Ravens on either side of the ball.
CBS Sports’ Brady Quinn: "I think this is a bad matchup for the Dolphins. They're going to have a hard time stopping that rushing attack of the Baltimore Ravens. And on the flip side, whether it's Tua [Tagovailoa] or Jacoby Brissett [at quarterback] for this matchup, that offensive line has played atrocious, and they're only going to get more pressure from a Baltimore Ravens defense that likes to bring a ton of pressure, and I don't foresee them putting up a bunch of points against the Ravens."
The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Schwartz: "This one just screams blowout for the Ravens, who are simply better than the Dolphins in every phase of the game — by a lot. It won't matter who plays quarterback for Miami; neither Tua Tagovailoa nor Jacoby Brissett will be up to the task to lead what would be a stunning upset."
Expect the Ravens to apply a lot of pressure to whoever starts at QB.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "Uncertainty around Tua Tagovailoa's fractured finger on his throwing hand forced the Ravens defense to prepare for two quarterbacks in its limited practice this week. The Ravens studied the tendencies of both Tagovailoa and veteran backup Jacoby Brissett, who started Sunday in a victory over the Houston Texans. … Regardless of who is starting at quarterback for Miami, expect Ravens defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale to attack them early and often. The Dolphins offensive line has struggled all year."
Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones: "The Dolphins offensive line is arguably the worst in the league and has surrendered 30 more pressures than any other team, according to Pro Football Focus. You'd like to see consistent pressure from a four-man rush and some plays from Odafe Oweh, who's been quiet in recent weeks."
Jackson figures to have his full complement of weapons for the first time all season, and the Dolphins have a suspect passing defense.
Zrebiec: "Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to return to game action after a three-game absence with a hamstring injury, joining a receiving group that includes Brown, [Rashod] Bateman, Devin Duvernay and of course, tight end Mark Andrews. The Dolphins have the third-worst pass defense in the NFL and the Ravens will have numerous ways to attack it. How Jackson gets and keeps the Ravens' myriad receiving options involved will be an interesting storyline to watch going forward. And yes, it has been a long time since the Ravens had 'myriad' receiving threats."
Don't be surprised if the game is closer than expected.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "The Ravens have struggled to put away several teams they were favored to beat, so it would not be surprising if the Dolphins hang tough on their home field. But the Dolphins have not excelled in any phase this season, and their offense is not suited to punish the Ravens' weaknesses. Miami simply does not have the weapons to keep up with Lamar Jackson for four quarters."
The Dolphins have a chance to keep it close if they win the turnover battle.
South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Omar Kelly: "So far this season the Dolphins have only recorded six interceptions, but last week's win over the Texans featured Houston committing four turnovers. If Miami can get that type of performance this week against Jackson, who has thrown seven interceptions, and the Ravens, who commit 1.2 turnovers per game, they have a chance to keep Thursday night's game competitive. But the Dolphins, who average two turnovers per game, also have to take care of the football."
CB Marlon Humphrey vs. WR Jaylen Waddle is a matchup to watch.
NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread: "[This] will be an interesting battle, and one that likely favors Humphrey. He's a big, physical corner who excels in bump-and-run coverage and would figure to have an easy time disrupting the routes of the diminutive Waddle. And based on the Dolphins' use of Waddle this season, why not press? Per his Next Gen Stats route chart, Waddle has caught as many passes behind the line of scrimmage (10) as he has for 10-plus air yards. As a result, he's averaged just 8.9 yards per catch. Press away, Marlon."
TE Nick Boyle, who has not played all season after undergoing knee surgery last year, could give the Ravens offense a huge boost if he plays. (Boyle is listed as questionable.)
Ravens Wire’s Steve Rudden: "The tight end is one of the best blockers in the NFL at his position, and has been sorely missed by the Baltimore offense through the first eight games of 2021. The veteran's presence could even immediately solidify the offensive line to where Lamar Jackson has more time in the pocket to hit Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and others. Boyle is one of the most important pieces of the Ravens' offense because of his blocking skills and his improved receiving chops, and could make a massive impact if he plays in Week 10."
|ESPN||9 of 9 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Baltimore Sun||5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens||“Yes, Thursday night games tend to produce a lot of weird, sloppy results, and this Ravens season has been anything but normal. But Lamar Jackson has excelled in short weeks, and with Sammy Watkins set to return, he should have more firepower out wide than he’s ever had.” — Jonas Shaffer|
|NFL Network||10 of 10 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Sporting News||Ravens 38, Dolphins 10||“The Dolphins' defense has been playing better, but it still can wilt against the run and give up big pass plays. With likely more of Jacoby Brissett on the other side, this will be a Miami walkover for Baltimore.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens||"The Ravens defense has issues, but the Dolphins have struggled on offense. Look for Baltimore to come to Miami and win this game easily.” — Pete Prisco|
|Sports Illustrated||5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
Stephen A. Smith, Keyshawn Johnson Debate Jackson vs. Tom Brady for MVP
Stephen A. Smith said he's going with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for league MVP because of how well he's played while wide receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski have been sidelined.
As for Jackson's MVP candidacy, Smith said the Ravens quarterback has "struggled at pivotal moments."
"As great as [Jackson] has been, there's been too many times when he's struggled at pivotal moments even though they've ended up pulling things out," Smith said on ESPN's First Take.
Struggled at pivotal moments? Did Smith not see Jackson lead the Ravens to wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings after trailing by double digits in the second half? Or Jackson's converting on fourth-and-19 against the Lions to set up Tucker's game-winner?
Johnson adamantly disagreed with Smith's assessment.
"Their record doesn't indicate he's been struggling and neither do his statistics," said Johnson, who noted that Jackson is on pace for more than 5,800 yards of total offense (the actual number is 5,969).
Johnson said that if Brady was replaced by quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford, the Buccaneers would win just as many games as they have under Brady, but the same cannot be said for the Ravens without Jackson.
"You do that in Baltimore? The Baltimore Ravens will be getting ready for Christmas," Johnson said.
Ravens Have Come Up Big on Fourth-and-Short
Next Gen Stats (via NFL.com) analyzed teams' decisions on fourth down this season, and the Ravens made the list of superlatives.
Jackson's conversion on fourth-and-1 from his own 43-yard-line with a one-point lead and 1:05 remaining against the Chiefs in Week 2 was named the most consequential fourth-down decision.
"John Harbaugh's decision to keep Jackson on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens' 43-yard line was unequivocally the right call," Next Gens Stats wrote. "So much so that the decision goes down as the strongest go for it recommendation over the last two seasons when a team was in a tie game or had the lead. The decision to go for it in this game helped the Ravens' chances of winning by 22.6 percentage points more than if they had punted.
"Harbaugh, with reassurance from Jackson, knew the more optimal decision was to go for it on fourth-and-1.3 yards (by our tracking data) — a 76 percent proposition—rather than giving the ball back to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense, equating to roughly a 58 percent chance of winning the game from the Ravens' perspective."
The Ravens are one of three teams with a 100-percent conversion rate (6-for-6) when the numbers say go for it with less than 1.5 yards to go.
"Seeing Harbaugh here is no surprise with how aggressive the Ravens have been on fourth down in recent seasons," Next Gen Stats wrote.
What Are the Ravens' Biggest Offseason Needs?
Safety, running back, and interior defensive line are the Ravens' biggest needs this offseason, Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger wrote on ESPN.com.
"Injuries have plagued the Ravens all season long, perhaps creating new positions of need as they await the return of key players, such as ballhawk cornerback Marcus Peters," Spielberger wrote. "The most recent injury was a torn pectoral/bicep for safety DeShon Elliott, an ascending young player on the back end.
"Even with Elliott in the fold, Ravens safeties this season have forced an incomplete pass on just 4.1% of the balls thrown into their coverage -- the third-lowest rate in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a 131.9 passer rating when targeting Ravens safeties so far this season, also third worst. The unit needs potentially multiple reinforcements to stop opposing teams' downfield aerial attacks in 2022."
Spielberger noted that interior defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have played at a high level for years, but they'll be 36 and 33 years old, respectively, in 2022.
Running back being listed as a need is a bit of a surprise considering the Ravens figure to have J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards back after suffering season-ending injuries this preseason.