The Miami Dolphins come into this week's showdown against the Baltimore Ravens reeling from a 29-28 loss to the Houston Texans. As Chad Pennington put it, this is "gut-check time." The Dolphins can have a hangover from a game they should have won and spiral downwards or come back and show everyone that wins over the Patriots and Chargers were not flukes.
There are several matchups that the Dolphins need to focus on to ensure victory this Sunday.
Dolphins' Kick Coverage vs. Yamon Figurs:
The most glaring thing the Dolphins must address are the big returns. The first order of business for Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland this season was to bring free agents that were strong special-teams players. They have not lived up to this promise.
Last week, the Dolphins were up 14-6 nearing halftime when they allowed a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and gave the momentum back to the win-deprived Texans.
Figurs hasn't broken a long return, but neither had Jacoby Jones until last week. Figurs has the speed; he just needs a couple of missed tackles (Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano counted 11 last week).
The Dolphins need to get back to fundamentals: fly down the field and make tackles.
Dolphins' front seven vs. Ravens' running backs:
The Dolphins have been stout against the run all season. They are ranked eighth in the NFL against the run, allowing 89 yards per game. This stat is even more impressive considering the running backs the Dolphins have faced: LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Thomas Jones, Edgerrin James, Steve Slaton, and Ahman Green.
The Ravens are most dangerous when they are able to move the ball on the ground with their three-headed rushing attack of Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice. In their two wins, Baltimore averaged 190 yards rushing.
Since then, they have averaged under 100 yards per contest, including a 51-yard game against Indianapolis last week.
If the Dolphins can continue to seal the gaps and slow the Ravens rushing attack, then they will have to rely on Joe Flacco's arm.
Dolphins' wide receivers vs. Ravens' cornerbacks:
The Dolphins came into the season conceding one flaw: the wide-receiver corps.
Through five games, it is evident that this group cannot be relied on, week-to-week, to make plays.
Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess have been solid, but they would be third and fourth options on almost any other team in the NFL. While they can make the catches in the middle and on the sidelines, they won't stretch the defense and keep the Ravens' defense from stacking up against the run. Preseason favorites Derek Hagan and Ernest Wilford have combined for four catches.
2007 first-round draft choice Ted Ginn has not developed chemistry with Chad Pennington. This is due mostly to the fact that he is not getting open with any regularity, even against man-to-man coverage. He will have even more trouble this week going against Chris McAlister.
If Ginn can start living up to his lofty draft position, it will ease the pressure on the tight ends and allow Ronnie Brown some running room.
Wildcat vs. Ravens' coaches
There has been a new wrinkle in the Dolphins' Wildcat offense every week. Last week, it was a 53-yard reverse-option pass for a touchdown. What will they try this week?
This is something the Ravens coaches have to spend time in practice preparing for. That means less time working on defending the Dolphins' base offense.
If the Dolphins can continue to run a mistake-free Wildcat, alongside the precision of Chad Pennington, they will have a great chance to pull to 3-3 and stay in the hunt in the AFC East.