The Baltimore Ravens take on the Miami Dolphins in their home opener Sunday at 1 p.m. Here's what Ravens fans need to know:
The Ravens lead the regular-season series, 8-7. Last year, Baltimore was heavy favorites heading into a Thursday Night Football showdown, but the Dolphins pulled off a stunning 22-10 upset behind a relentless heavy blitz that short-circuited the Ravens offense. Tua Tagovailoa entered in relief of Jacoby Brissett and went 8-of-13 for 158 yards and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard had a 49-yard fumble return for a touchdown that essentially sealed the game.
The Ravens and Dolphins both won their Week 1 matchups and both teams figure to be in the AFC playoff race at the end of the year. An early win over the other would be a big deal. The Ravens started their 2019 and 2020 seasons with two straight wins out of the gate and reached the postseason both years.
Will Lamar Jackson and the Ravens handle the blitz better?
No team blitzed more than the Dolphins last season at nearly 44% and they blitzed their safeties, Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones, 38 times in last year's matchup, the most ever for defensive backs in the NextGen Stats era. While the Dolphins have a new head coach in Mike McDaniel, they still have the same defensive coordinator. If the Dolphins decided to blitz as much this time, the Ravens need to have better answers.
Will the Ravens continue to hit big plays?
One way of combating an aggressive pass rush is to hit big plays over the top. The Ravens had much success doing so in Week 1 against the Jets, including a 25-yard touchdown to Devin Duvernay and 55-yard bomb to Rashod Bateman. If Baltimore can duplicate that – especially early – against the Dolphins' strong secondary, Miami will have to back up its safeties.
Will the Cheetah change things?
The Dolphins added one of the top threats in the league this year by trading for wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Hill has had his moments against Baltimore as a Chief, putting up 230 yards and a touchdown in three meetings. The Ravens kept a lid on the Jets and Joe Flacco's big arm, but it will be a bigger challenge to do so with the "Cheetah" on the hunt.
5 Players to Watch
QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson lit up the Ravens to start the 2019 season but struggled in his second game against them, going 26-of-43 for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He slammed his helmet on the sideline at one point of last year's game. Jackson will look to solve their blitz puzzle.
S Marcus Williams
The Dolphins want to take deep shots to Hill. That's why they gave up a lot to get him. It's on Williams to limit those big shots and make Tagovailoa pay for attempting them. Williams got an interception in the opener and he'll be looking for more.
WR Rashod Bateman
Bateman had one of his best games last season against the Dolphins, putting up six catches for 80 yards. If the Dolphins bring a heavy safety blitz, the Ravens will look to hit big plays over the top like they did versus the Jets. Bateman had a 55-yard score in Week 1 and will look for another.
DT Justin Madubuike
Madubuike was dominant inside against the Jets. Can he and the rest of the defensive line duplicate that this week? The Ravens would love to force Tagovailoa to get rid of the ball quickly and settle for shorter throws, which would negate some of the threat of Hill and Waddle. Pressure up the middle is the best way to force it.
OT Patrick Mekari
If Ronnie Stanley doesn't suit up this week, it will be on Mekari to step in again with Ja'Wuan James (Achilles) lost for the season. Mekari would have the challenge of facing Emmanuel Ogbah, who had nine sacks last season and one in the season opener.
WR Rashod Bateman vs. CB Xavien Howard
Howard had a game-breaking 49-yard fumble return for a touchdown in last year's Dolphins upset. One of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, Howard will now look to put a cap on the Ravens' top wide receiver and lurk for interceptions (he had 15 the past two seasons). Bateman is coming off a long touchdown in the season opener and will be key to solving the riddle of the Dolphins' blitz. He needs to get open quickly with his releases and back Miami up.