Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel look back at the Ravens' previous game and that of their next opponent.
Saints 38, Dolphins 17
Strategy: The Dolphins, in their variation of the West Coast offense, rely on short drops and quick passes to get the ball to their receivers in the passing game. They used a lot of three-wide-receiver sets with mobile second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the shotgun or pistol formation against the Saints on Monday night, especially as they tried to play catch-up after halftime. Defensively, the Dolphins run a 4-3 base defense. They are stout against the run, but their pass defense was exposed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whether the Dolphins blitzed him or sat back.
Personnel: Cameron Wake, one of the NFL's best pass rushers, sat out Monday with a knee injury, and his status for Sunday could be in doubt. That would be a big break for the Ravens, whose tackles will be tested by Wake if he plays. The Dolphins have a lot of speed at the offensive skill positions with running back Lamar Miller and wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson. Charles Clay is also a receiving threat at tight end, the type of player who has given the Ravens' defense problems early this season. Oh, and let's not forget about Dannell Ellerbe, the Ravens playoff hero who now mans the middle linebacker position for the Dolphins.
What went right: The Dolphins were efficient enough on offense early to hang around with Brees and the Saints. Miller was effective on the ground, scoring a touchdown and averaging 5.6 yards per carry. They generated a few big plays, including a 50-yard catch-and-run by Marcus Thigpen; another came when Tannehill escaped from the pocket for a 26-yard gain. Miami committed only five penalties, held the Saints to 2.8 yards per carry and forced them to punt three times, quite the accomplishment considering how well Brees was throwing the ball on his home turf. It was a tough loss, but the Dolphins are better than they showed.
What went wrong: The Dolphins had no answer for diminutive deal-threat running back Darren Sproles, who had a 48-yard reception on a wheel route on the second play from scrimmage, piled up 142 total yards and scored two touchdowns. They also had no answer for big tight end Jimmy Graham, who had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Brees made the Dolphins pay when they didn't blitz and was even more efficient when they occasionally did. On offense, Tannehill threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. Wallace, who used to play the Ravens twice a year when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a nonfactor against the Saints. The Dolphins allowed the Saints to score touchdowns on three of their four trips inside the red zone.
Turning point: The Dolphins trailed 14-10 late in the second quarter when Tannehill was picked off by Jabari Greer, who returned it to the Miami 23-yard line. Four plays later, on third-and-11, Brees targeted Sproles, who was running another wheel route out of the backfield. Cornerback Nolan Carroll broke on the ball and nearly got there — if he had, he probably could have returned the interception for a touchdown — but Sproles caught it and ran into the end zone.
X-factor: With Wake sidelined Monday night, the Dolphins started Derrick Shelby at left end. Needless to say, that was a big drop-off from Wake, who had 15 sacks last season and has 2.5 in three games this season. If Wake is healthy enough to return against the Ravens, he could cause problems for right tackle Michael Oher. If Wake doesn't play, Miami's pass rush will suffer.
—Matt VenselCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun