Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in Miami Dolphins' Week 5 Action

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 2, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Mike Wallace #11 of the Miami Dolphins runs for a touchdown during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are 3-1, but you wouldn't know it from the reaction of some of the Dolphins fans in comment sections who are reacting like this was the fourth loss of the season. 

Time to move past that, though, because the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens are coming to town for a must-win game for both teams. 

For the Ravens, it's about avoiding starting the season at 2-3. Already the Ravens have lost both games on the road, and it is their third road game of the season. 

For the Dolphins, it's about regaining momentum and going into the bye week at 4-1. Doing that will already exceed the expectations placed upon this team prior to the start of the season, especially considering how tough those first five games of the schedule looked on paper. 

For both teams, it's the AFC tiebreaker that's most important. A Dolphins win will not only put them two games ahead of Baltimore in terms of playoff seeding or the wild-card race, but it will also give Miami the tiebreaker over the Ravens for the rest of the season.

Who has the edge in this game? Let's take a look at the key individual matchups to watch in Sunday's game. 

Dolphins WR Mike Wallace vs. Ravens CB Corey Graham

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PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 27:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a pass while defended by Frank Walker #41 of the Baltimore Ravens during the game at Heinz Field on December 27, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty
Karl Walter/Getty Images

For the second time this season, Mike Wallace finds himself going up against a former division rival. 

Wallace has played the Ravens seven times, and in those seven games he's grabbed 31 receptions for 426 yards and one touchdown. 

Keep this in mind though: Of those seven games, two of them were last year when Wallace didn't have Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him, but instead Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Batch was also Wallace's quarterback when the Ravens and Steelers played each other in Week 4 of 2010. 

That's in the past, but what isn't is Baltimore's pass defense. This season it's ranked 16th, and a lot of that has to do with the atrocious opening night performance against the Denver Broncos

Since then the Ravens have been stellar against the pass. But keep in mind that the Ravens have faced the likes of Brandon Weeden, Matt Schaub and EJ Manuel in that time. 

Nothing against those three gentlemen, but Ryan Tannehill has been a better quarterback than those three (with the only exception being Monday against New Orleans). With Miami starting to gain some semblance of a running game in the last few weeks, it will be tough for the Ravens to completely sell out on the pass every play. 

But that's Baltimore as a team. Let's look at Corey Graham.

When it comes to coverage he does a fairly good job. He already has an interception on the season. Graham did a great job covering Wallace last season—but this is a new year, and Wallace has a better quarterback than the Byron Leftwich/Charlie Batch over-the-hill platter. 

That matchup is important because it affects this upcoming matchup. 

Dolphins WR Brian Hartline vs. Ravens CB Lardarius Webb

Sep 22, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline (82) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Webb will likely spend a little bit of time covering Mike Wallace as well, but his main assignment will be Brian Hartline. 

Hartline will have to step up in this game in order for the Dolphins to truly open up their offense. Odds are, Hartline will get more targets than Wallace, and he will have to hold onto those passes and create separation from Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. 

Can Hartline do it? He's done well in the past and has thus far had a very good season. More of the same will work wonders for the Dolphins offense. 

Dolphins C Mike Pouncey vs. Ravens NT Haloti Ngata

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 23: Defensive end Haloti Ngata #92 of the Baltimore Ravens sacks quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Get
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Dolphins' running game needs to have a big day against Baltimore for Miami to win. 

This starts up front, specifically with Mike Pouncey's matchup against Haloti Ngata. 

Usually this would be a marquee matchup. You have one of the best centers in the league taking on one of the best nose tackles in the league. Yet the Ravens' run defense has been putrid this season, ranking 17th in the NFL, allowing 427 yards for an average of 106.8 per game. 

The reason for this is the Ravens have failed to get a good push up front on running plays, especially in the middle. 

It was in the middle of the field where the Bills ran for 109 yards and a touchdown in 21 runs in Week 4 en route to finishing with 203 yards on the afternoon. 

Buffalo provided Miami with the game plan. Now it's up to the Dolphins offensive line and running backs to execute the plan.

It all starts up front, with Pouncey on Ngata. 

Dolphins DE Dion Jordan vs. Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5: Robert Ayers #91 of the Denver Broncos beats Bryant McKinnie #78 of the Baltimore Ravens on the edge before sacking Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens in the second quarter during the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile Hig
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If Jordan didn't start against New Orleans when Cameron Wake was unavailable, I doubt he'll start against Baltimore as the right defensive end if Wake is coming back (which I expect him to this week). 

But when Jordan is in the game, he will be matched up with Bryant McKinnie, a matchup which should favor Jordan. 

McKinnie and the Ravens have struggled against tough pass rushes this season. They have allowed 12 sacks thus far, including four to the Bills in Week 4. 

Their lack of a pass rush has meant that Joe Flacco has thrown seven interceptions this season, as well as amassing a quarterback rating of 69.4. 

McKinnie vs. Jordan isn't the only major matchup up front—if Cameron Wake comes back for this game, he will be matched up with Michael Oher in a major mismatch that favors Miami—but for right now is the most important. If Wake comes back, he will be double-teamed and could use some help up front on passing downs. 

This is where Jordan comes in, and this is what he was drafted for back in April. 


Bryant McKinnie might not be matched up with Dion Jordan, Olivier Vernon or any Miami Dolphins' defensive lineman this Sunday. As Adam Schefter of ESPN reports, the Ravens have agreed to a deal with Jacksonville, sending two mid-round picks to Jacksonville in exchange for OT Eugene Monroe.

It is worth mentioning that last season when the Dolphins played Monroe and the Jaguars, the Dolphins did have success rushing the quarterback. This didn't come on Monroe's side though, as Pro Football Focus graded Monroe at plus-4.0, saying: "Left tackle Eugene Monroe [sic] had a stellar game going against far less talented rushers" (subscription required).

Assuming Monroe plays, this matchup becomes that much tougher for the Miami Dolphins. 

Dolphins LT Jonathan Martin vs. Ravens OLB Elvis Dumervil

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 05:  Elvis Dumervil #58 beats the block of Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos during the NFL season opener at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 5, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 49-27.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

This will be perhaps the toughest of the Dolphins' battles. 

Baltimore runs a base 3-4 defense, and in that defense, Dumervil is standing as a linebacker. But from time to time his hand is down. In both situations he's on the right side of the Ravens defense, which is the left side of the Dolphins offense. 

Hence, Elvis Dumervil will be paired up with Jonathan Martin. 

Yikes, says the Dolphins fan, especially since it won't be as easy as having Martin and Richie Incognito double-teaming Dumervil. Not when Incognito will have to work with Pouncey from time to time to keep Ngata from getting into the backfield. 

But up until Monday's debacle, Martin has managed to hold his own this season despite all reports of him being a flat-out disaster. 

That's all we should ask of Martin: Just hold your own (but not while holding). A lot of this will have to do with schemes (more screen passes to Marcus Thigpen like the 50-yard beauty we saw on Monday will help), but the rest is up to Martin. 

If he can protect Tannehill's blind side, Tannehill and the Dolphins' offense will be just fine, and we will likely see Miami heading to their bye week at 4-1, one win better than I expected them to be, and two wins better than the majority of Dolphins' experts expected them to be. 

Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.