As the Ravens prepare for their Wild Card Playoff with the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at Dolphin Stadium, two members of the enemy team answered a few questions about their squad.
BR.com gives you head coach Tony Sparano and quarterback Chad Pennington.
Head Coach Tony Sparano
What has changed on his team since you played the Ravens in Week 7?
Tony Sparano:"I just think that since that time, certainly, we've become a lot more consistent. We were able to get on a little bit of a roll in there and play a little bit more error-free football. We've done a good job of not turning the ball over, those types of things, and have been able to generate some offense. I think, also, our secondary and some of those areas have played a lot better."
What have you seen in the Ravens since then?
TS:"Obviously, what I've seen in them is that, to me, that defense has just gotten better and better. Hard to believe that a defense that's that good can continue to get better the way they do, but they really have. But, more importantly, I think the thing I see the most is certainly the maturity in Joe Flacco. I think that, since the last time we played them, he's been in a lot of big ball games and has rose to the occasion a bunch out there. You can see confidence with him back there in the pocket right now, and they're doing an awful lot more right now with him than maybe they were then."
How much does it impress you that a rookie quarterback is able to do this?
TS:"It really does impress me an awful lot. Not taking anything from Joe, it's just a rookie in this kind of… With a couple rookie quarterbacks that have been playing right now, with him and with [Matt] Ryan and these guys, it is just unbelievable what they've done. But when you really got a chance to know these guys – and, of course, we had a pretty good chance to know Joe throughout the draft process – and when you get a chance to visit with these guys and see how they're made, you realize that they're quite capable of doing what they're doing right now."
Did you think the Dolphins were better when he took them over than their 1-15 record last year would indicate?
TS:"Well, certainly, there were more pieces. Again, this team [was] a lot like the Ravens a year ago, a similar situation. There were 15 players that were on Injured Reserve at the time when I walked through the door, a plethora of injuries. The training room book, from a medical standpoint, was just unbelievable, the number of injuries that were out there.
"As the season went on, you saw so many different bodies out there. It's just hard to have that kind of continuity. I look at the Ravens' team right now, and I see we played them early in the season. Now here we are in the 18th week of the season, and I'm seeing the same names. So when you're able to do those kinds of things and have that kind of continuity, usually you can have a little bit of success."
Did you have to change the mindset since the Dolphins haven't been to the playoffs since 2001?
TS:"Yeah, we really did. There was a culture change that had to take place here, just with everybody in the building, to be quite honest with you. It wasn't just the players. It was everybody. We needed to be able to do that. That was one of the early messages – that we wanted to create an environment around here that the players can feel like we were going to have success. And then at the same time, we were in a division where we were looking up in that division for an awful long time. As we said to everybody in the organization, every day that you walk through the door here, you're competing against the people in our division if we're going to get to where we want to get to. Fortunately, the people bought in [within] the organization. The players bought in to what we were trying to do, and that's sometimes easier said than done."
Quarterback Chad Pennington
How the Dolphins' offense different from the first time you played the Ravens?
Chad Pennington:"We certainly hope we've improved on our fundamentals and just playing good, solid, fundamental football. We know that we have a huge challenge in front of us, playing probably the best defense in the league in my opinion, because they're so aggressive. And, they have an offensive mentality when they play defense. You've always got to know where all 11 of those guys are on the field at all times, and they do a great job of that, so we've got a huge challenge ahead of us."
Does it help that you played the Ravens once already?
CP:"It can sometimes. [It] at least, gives you a feel for at least what type of players you're going up against, what type of style of defense you're going up against. You know what you're facing with their athleticism and how they run so well. It can help us a little bit in that area, but as far as game plan, the scheme and things like that, that's why you play the game, because they'll have a few wrinkles for us that we'll have to adjust to and make sure we're ready for."
What made the difference for the Ravens last time?
CP:"I think the [Terrell Suggs'] pick-6 was a huge momentum builder for them. And, I think anytime you play these guys, they do such a great job of turning turnovers into touchdowns, that you just can't give them easy points like that because they capitalize on it. They're the best in the league at doing that and wreaking havoc back there and causing turnovers and things. That's something that we've got to make sure we [don't] do, either put our defense in bad situations or allow their defense to score points off of us."
How have you only thrown seven interceptions this year?
CP:"We take a lot of pride in protecting the football. We always feel that if you don't give your opponent extra chances, you increase your chance of winning. If you don't give them easy points, and great field position for your opponent, then you increase your chances of winning. You still have to go out there and perform and play well, but you don't want to give them anything easy. We have taken great pride in that all year, making sure that if a team is going to be really successful against us they have to line up and beat us, and for us not to give them anything."
How rewarding has this season been for you?
CP:"Anytime you face difficult challenges, it's human nature to start maybe questioning the things you believe in, as far as what made you successful. When you have a year like this, it reinforces that the things you've always believed in, such as work ethic and preparation and determination, things like that, that that always pays off in the end, no matter what the situation is. It's gratifying to know that those core values that I've always believed in, those are still core values that are extremely important for anybody to be successful."