Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah called the poor performance of the Miami Dolphins' run defense in Monday night's victory over the New York Jets an "anomaly." Head coach John Harbaugh chalked it up to the ups and downs that every team experiences in a season. Several Ravens went as far to say that the Dolphins have one of the best defenses they'll face all season.
But the numbers remain hard to ignore, particularly for a Ravens team that has taken great pride in the resurgence of their running game. Over the past two weeks in games against the Jets and Denver Broncos, the Dolphins have allowed 478 yards rushing.
"Watching them on film, I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that this thing is going to be easy and we're going to be able to run all day," said Ravens running back Justin Forsett, who is questionable for the game but said this week he expected to play. "I know that they are a physical bunch, I know that they are athletic and they've got a lot of playmakers. I'm anticipating a tough game."
As the two 7-5 teams prepare to play Sunday at Sun Life Stadium in a game with potentially significant playoff implications, the Dolphins have prioritized stopping Forsett and the league's fifth-ranked rushing team.
Forsett has rushed for 100 or more yards in three straight games, and has eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. Over the past three games, the Ravens have rushed for 491 yards as a team.
"They've played very well upfront, number one," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said this week. "I think their running back, Forsett, he's averaging almost five-and-a-half yards a carry. That's exceptional production. He's been able to make guys miss. Their scheme is good. They are well-coached. They have good players. We are certainly going to have our hands full stopping their run game."
The struggles of the Dolphins run defense peaked Monday against the Jets when Miami allowed 277 yards rushing, 210 of them in the first half. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called it a "bad dream."
Philbin has chalked up some of the recent issues to poor tackling and expressed confidence his team will get its run defense back to playing as it was earlier this season. Through 10 weeks, the Dolphins had the NFL's eighth-ranked run defense. Now, they are ranked 22nd, allowing 118.6 yards per game.
"It will be interesting to see which team shows up because they have shown they can be very stout against the run, but they have also shown they have some holes there," said Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "There are some creases we can find there, so we're confident going against any defense because we feel like we have a really good running offense."
The Dolphins do have the NFL's second-ranked pass defense (198.2 yards per game), so it would be surprising if Gary Kubiak's play-calling didn't lean heavily on the ground game.
"The last two weeks they've given up big chunks of run yardage, but also, they are a very capable and very good pass-rush team," said backup running back Bernard Pierce. "We're going to still have to run and pass the ball. We're going to have to get it done one way or another. It's any given Sunday. You just get what you can get and ask for more."