*The Ravens are set to take on the Miami Dolphins at Dolphins Stadium. BR.com offers a breakdown of Baltimore's Week 7 opponent. *
Total Offense - 10 (346.8) Total Defense - 18 (328.0)
Rush Offense - 11 (120.0) Rush Defense - 8 (89.0)
Pass Offense - 11 (226.8) Pass Defense - 29 (239.0)
Points Per Game - 18 (21.4) Points Per Game - 13 (20.6)
Sizing Them Up
The 2008 version of the Miami Dolphins is a far cry from last year's squad that went 1-15 under then-head coach Cam Cameron. Rebuilding guru Bill Parcells was brought in to overhaul the entire team, and that's exactly what he did, bringing former Dallas assistant Tony Sparano to the helm.
Parcells and Sparano brought in former Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee, and his addition has shown in the way Miami's offense operates. The Dolphins have run a version of the "Wildcat" offense that features talented running back Ronnie Brown.
In that system, quarterback Chad Pennington splits out wide and Brown lines up as the sole member of the backfield for a direct snap. With the ball, Brown can run, pass or handoff, creating mass confusion for a defense and big plays for the Dolphins.
Additionally, Brown and Ricky Williams form a scary rushing attack that averages 120.0 yards per game. Brown, coming off a shortened 2007 campaign because of a knee injury, has 336 yards and a seven touchdowns on 71 carries. And Williams is not too far behind with 235 yards and one score this year.
But, Pennington is not simply a decoy. Known as one of the most accurate passers in the league, he's completing 68.6 percent of his passes (94-of-137), and is even coming off a loss in Houston where he compiled a quarterback rating of 122.8, the third game in a row where he topped 100.0. Pennington also has five touchdowns and only two interceptions.
His most reliable target is Greg Camarillo, a 6-foot-1, 190-poind wideout who averages 12.5 yards per catch. Camarillo's 21 receptions have produced 263 yards and a score.
All the talk about scoring touchdowns is warranted. The Dolphins are first in the NFL with a 78.6 success rate of hanging six on the board when in the red zone.
Defensively, linebacker Joey Porter stokes the fire. Ravens fans will remember Porter from his days as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Porter's loud mouth has done some talking this year, but he's also backed it up with 6.5 sacks through five games.
Miami's 3-4 defense has been stout against the run. With linebacker Channing Crowder totaling 39 tackles, the Dolphins have locked down on the run.
The passing game has been vulnerable, however, as it's ranked 29th out of 32 teams. Miami surrendered a career-high 178 yards on 10 catches to Houston's Andre Johnson last Sunday, and three touchdowns to Arizona's Anquan Boldin in Week 2.
My counterpart with MiamiDolphins.com, Andy Kent, says Miami's defense is itching for some recognition, in light of the Ravens' top-ranked unit coming to town.
"This Sunday at Dolphin Stadium that formula is being tested in reverse as the Baltimore Ravens come to South Florida with the top-ranked defense, and the players on the defensive side of the ball for Miami are looking at this game as the ultimate measuring stick."
Jeff Darlington of The Miami Herald writes that Porter needs some help pressuring the quarterback.
"As the Dolphins prepare to play the Ravens on Sunday, the defensive front is placing a major focus on spreading those sacks around. Porter's 6 ½ sacks account for half of the team's total of 13 sacks."
Sparano told David J. Neal of the Herald that rookie Chad Henne is learning behind Pennington, unlike Baltimore rookie starter Joe Flacco.
'''I think in our case, with Pennington out there, Chad Henne gets to learn a little bit of something every single game,'' Sparano said. ``We talked about [the game against] San Diego, the way Pennington threw the ball away, some of those kind of things. I even thought last week, the drive at the end, the way he keeps the play alive to Ronnie Brown* *down the sideline, those kind of things. I think Chad Henne learns from those things.'"
Here's a Q and A with Harvey Fialkov of the Miami Sun-Sentinel about the Ravens' defense.
"They're No. 1 in most of the critical defensive categories, however, their secondary is banged up including Samari Rolle (shoulder/neck), Dawan Landry (neck/shoulders) and Fabian Washington (shoulder)."
Offensive - Ronnie Brown bounced back from his season-ending knee injury last year to thrive for Miami. As the top playmaker, his seven touchdowns are second in the NFL, and he's even thrown for a score. And, Brown's average of 4.7 yards per carry is an impressive number. The 6-foot, 230-pound back is creating headaches for opposing offenses.
Defensive - The defensive honor would have to go to Joey Porter. He's been known as one of the game's top pass-rushers, totaling 70.0 sacks since 2000, eighth-best across the league. With 6.5 sacks, Porter leads the AFC. He is also fifth on the team with 19 tackles.
Tight end Anthony Fasano, who was brought in with Parcells' purging of the Dallas Cowboys' roster, is having an excellent season in his third professional campaign. Fasano has 15 receptions, third on the team, for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
A 6-foot-4, 255-pounder, Fasano is delivering on his second-round draft status, having already set personal-best marks this season.
Ravens LB Bart Scott vs. Dolphins Wildcat formationScott could have a big impact on how successful the Dolphins are against Miami's crazy offensive scheme. As a run-stopper, he'll be counted on to sniff out the ball and stop Brown and Williams toting the rock, along with backup Patrick Cobbs. But perhaps even more importantly, Scott's collegiate experience playing safety will be called upon to mark the receivers that can come free in the confusion.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Dolphins CBsMason currently leads the Ravens with 27 reception for 331 yards, and he could have a big day against a Dolphins team where he averages 17.1 yards per catch in six games against Miami. That is Mason's highest average facing any team he's seen three or more times. Miami is monitoring cornerback Will Allen, who has a knee injury but reportedly has been a full participant in practice all week.
Tony Sparano on attacking the Ravens' offensive line where they have faced injuries:"I know that they've had a couple injuries there. I certainly know some of the potential pieces from the replacements they employ, and they're outstanding players. Everybody has injuries in our league. In the first game of the season, we lost our starting right guard for the entire season, so we had to have somebody go in there and step up. I know that they have some outstanding players there. I think they're a deep team. As far as attacking them, it's not going to change the way we go about our business during the game."
Porter on how the Ravens' offensive line injuries play into how the Dolphins' defense will attack them: "When anybody is banged up, it doesn't matter if it's the offensive line or a running back situation or any situation that's banged up, you want to come after that. So we're going to try to look for advantages against the offensive line if we see some. But that's not going to change the way we attack the Ravens' offense."
How does one stop the Wildcat formation? That's what everyone is excited to see in this matchup of an odd scheme against the NFL's top-ranked defense.
It basically comes down to discipline and staying true to your responsibilities. The Ravens must keep an eye on the football at all times, while also guarding against any Dolphin that could get behind the defense for a big play.
There is so much misdirection, that's easier said than done.
But, if the Ravens can stop the Wildcat early, it could force Miami to revert to their regular offense. There, Baltimore must get pressure on Pennington, who has been sacked 10 times this year. Applying heat can aid a Ravens secondary that is decidedly banged-up, with Samari Rolle and Dawan Landry already declared out, and Ed Reed on the injury report with a hamstring issue.
Offensively, the Ravens will again have to establish the run, which was difficult against the Indianapolis Colts' speedy defense last week. If Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice can get going, that will open up opportunities for Joe Flacco to use play-action and throw the deep ball.
Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.