Dolphins-Ravens: Wild Card Preview

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2009

The Ravens and Dolphins will do battle Sunday night at Dolphins Stadium to determine who goes to the AFC Divisional playoffs.

We all know about the Ravens' dominating defense.  Baltimore ranks second in the NFL in total defense, and second and third, respectively, in pass and rush defense.

However, the Ravens' defense shouldn't be as effective this week as it normally is because of injuries to key players.  

First off, starting DT Justin Bannan is questionable with a foot injury.  Even if he plays, it will be difficult for him to explode as he normally would off the ball.  This will make it harder for him to make plays and perhaps allow the Dolphins to occupy him with fewer blockers, which would also minimize opportunities for teammates to come in and make plays.  That should make it easier for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to run on the Ravens.

Then, in the secondary, CB Samari Rolle and safety Ed Reed (9 interceptions in the regular season) are both questionable, with ankle and thigh injuries, respectively.  In addition, Dolphins QB Pennington established rapports with multiple receivers this year.  Four Miami receivers finished the season with 450 receiving yards or more.  Combine those two factors and you have the backdrop of an off day for the Ravens' secondary. 

Starting linebacker Jarrett Johnson, who had five sacks in the regular season, is also questionable with a calf injury.  Chalk one up for the Dolphins' passing game.  Two other Ravens defensive players are listed as questionable.

With such a depleted Baltimore defense, you have to wonder just how close to its normal level it will be able to play. 

But fortunately for the Ravens, the Dolphins' offense isn't particularly good—at least, not at scoring.  The Dolphins rank 21st in the NFL in scoring at 21.6 points per game. 

However, the Ravens' defense will need to force turnovers because their offense isn't spectacular.  Moreover, it's too unbalanced.  The passing game is very average, although the three-headed rushing attack is superb. 

But the Dolphins don't turn the ball over—they have the best turnover ratio in the NFL at +17.

Baltimore's running trio—Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice—which averages 148.5 yards per game, will have to get the job done against Miami's 11th-ranked rush defense.  McGahee stands an especially good chance at having a good game.  In the teams' previous meeting early in the season he ran for 105 yards on only 19 carries.

But McClain and Rice both turned in terrible performances that week.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been average this season, and Baltimore's top three receivers are hurt and won't be 100 percent.  That means a nonexistent Baltimore passing game and a highly unbalanced offense.

However, the Ravens' should get a small boost with field position.  Their kickoff and punt units are slightly better than the Dolphins.  On the other hand, the Dolphins are just a little bit more efficient in field goal kicking, so they should get a minimal advantage if the game comes down to a game-winning field goal.

With several of the Ravens' key players playing hurt or missing the game altogether, the Dolphins' should overall get an easier game than they would otherwise. 

The Ravens will be too unbalanced in the passing game on offense, and the Dolphins' underrated defense should be able to reduce the effectiveness of Baltimore's top rushing attack by putting eight defenders in the box.

And with a key run stopper missing or playing hurt in the middle of Baltimore's defensive line in addition to injuries to two key defensive backs along with a decent yet unknown pass-rushing linebacker, the Dolphins' offense should be able to help pull out a victory.