A frustrating defensive performance last weekend extended the Baltimore Ravens' road woes. If they can correct their inefficiencies, however, they might be able to find success in an unexpected location.
The Ravens look for an improved effort on Sunday as they try for their first win away from home in more than a year - and their first regular-season victory in South Florida - as they face the Miami Dolphins.
Baltimore (2-3) has boasted one of the league's best defensive units this decade, finishing among the top 10 squads in all but one season during that span. That trend has continued in 2008 as the team has held opponents to an NFL-low 235.2 yards a game and has allowed the sixth-fewest points per contest (17.4).
While the Ravens have not allowed more than 13 points in any of their three home games, they have given up at least 23 in each of their two road losses. They allowed season highs in yards (334) and points in a 31-3 defeat at Indianapolis last Sunday, failing to force a turnover or intercept a pass for the first time in 2008.
"We got what we deserved," first-year coach John Harbaugh said after Baltimore's third straight loss overall. "That's what happens when we play the way we did."
Baltimore has allowed averages of 27.4 points and 304.6 total yards while forcing only five turnovers during a seven-game road skid, dating to a 9-7 win at San Francisco on Oct. 7, 2007.
One of the losses during that slide came in Miami (2-3) on Dec. 16, as the Ravens gave up 360 total yards in a 22-16 defeat. It was the Dolphins' only win during its 1-15 season and it was the Ravens' fourth loss in as many regular-season games in Miami, though they did win there in the only playoff meeting between the teams in 2002.
Baltimore now hopes to contain a Dolphins offense that has been one of the league's most productive this year with 357.4 yards per game.
The same can't be said of the Ravens, who rank 28th in the league with 15.6 points per game and are 25th in total offense with 302.0 yards per game under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron - the Dolphins' head coach last season.
Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco went 28-for-38 for 241 yards last Sunday, but tossed three interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked four times. Additionally, the Ravens rushing offense, which is seventh in the NFL with 133.2 yards per game, was limited to a season-low 51 yards.
"We've seen something different every week from each defense, and we're going to see something different for the next 11-plus weeks," said Harbaugh, whose team will face a Dolphins defense that has allowed an average of 247.5 yards in two home games. "So you've got to get out there and adjust."
Those adjustments will start with finding a replacement for starting right offensive guard Marshal Yanda, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after he tore ligaments in his knee during the final two minutes of Sunday's loss.
The Miami offense had another strong game last Sunday against Houston and Ronnie Brown's touchdown run with 1:45 to play put the Dolphins ahead, but the Texans drove 76 yards on the ensuing series and won 29-28 on Matt Schaub's three-yard TD run with three seconds left.
"We're losing the games in a fashion where sometimes fundamentals come back and get you," Miami coach Tony Sparano said.
One area in need of improvement for Sparano's team this week will be the defense, which surrendered a season-high 485 yards - the team's most since allowing 497 in a home loss to San Francisco on Nov. 20, 1995.
Meanwhile, quarterback Chad Pennington, sixth in the NFL with a 98.8 passer rating, went 19-for-25 for a season-high 284 yards and two TDs - both to Patrick Cobbs, who had three receptions for a career-high 138 yards.
The Dolphins were unable to put together their first three-game winning streak since a four-game run in 2006, but Sparano is confident his team will return to the win column.
"The fact that we've won some ballgames and won some ballgames after we lost a few ballgames, I think gives us some confidence to understand that we can do this," he said. "We've already done it in the season."