Baltimore Ravens

Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 38-6 win over the Miami Dolphins

1.) This was not only the Ravens' best win of the season, it suggested bigger possibilities for January.

This was the first time in two years we've seen the Ravens lay a thorough beating on a quality opponent.


These weren't the Cleveland Browns on the other side of the ball. The Dolphins held an AFC wild-card spot coming into the game, and their pass defense ranked among the 10 best in the league. The game projected as a tense slugfest with serious playoff implications.

Instead, the Ravens turned it into a laugher from the first drive on. We've grown so used to thinking of this as a defense-only team that it was startling to watch the Ravens dominate on both sides of the ball.


Their defense, with Jimmy Smith back at cornerback, harassed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into a dreadful performance, even as Joe Flacco shredded Miami like a junior varsity outfit.

The Ravens, on Dec. 4, 2016, played about as well as any team has played in any game all season.

"That's something that's been in our minds and our vision, how we played today," coach John Harbaugh said.

Indeed he swore early in the season the Ravens could grow into the team we saw against Miami.

The next question is whether they can sustain it.

They're a relatively healthy team, strong on both lines and built to deal with cold weather.

The top of the AFC isn't exactly formidable. The New England Patriots have lost their greatest offensive threat in Rob Gronkowski. The Oakland Raiders are shoddy on defense. The Kansas City Chiefs are solid on both sides of the ball but hardly loaded with high-end playmakers.

If the Ravens get on a roll as they did in 2012, they could go a long way.


2.) Teammates called for a more aggressive Flacco, and he delivered in a big way.

Watching the Ravens cut through a solid Miami defense in the first half, it was hard not to think: Where had this Flacco been the previous 11 games?

He played his sharpest football of the season on the Ravens' first drive, completing six of seven for 73 yards and a touchdown. That included a beautifully timed pass to Steve Smith that Flacco zipped between two defenders for a 23-yard gain. His six completions went to six receivers.

Flacco was nearly as good on the second drive, completing five of seven for 63 yards and a touchdown to tight end Dennis Pitta. He gave some of his momentum back when he sailed a sideline throw over Mike Wallace and into the arms of Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell. But the Ravens' defense saved him with a quick three-and-out.

Flacco then resumed his brilliance, completing 12 passes on an epic 18-play, 88-yard touchdown drive to put the Ravens up 21-0.

We simply had not seen this offense string together three drives of that quality, and when teammates were asked what changed, they pointed directly to Flacco.


"The guy who was throwing the ball, he was playing lights out," Smith said. "As he goes, we go."

Coming into the game, several key players said the Ravens needed a more aggressive Flacco for the team to reach its potential. Flacco himself urged offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to call more downfield throws.

That was exactly what we saw against the Dolphins — a quarterback who confidently fired 15-and-20 yard strikes into small gaps in the defense.

"When Joe is on like that, we're tough to beat," left guard Marshal Yanda said.

3.) The Ravens' offensive line has solidified over the last three weeks. 

There wasn't a ton of praise to go around as the Ravens' offense struggled to 17 points against the Dallas Cowboys and 19 against the Cincinnati Bengals.


But the offensive line played well in both those games and continued the streak against the Dolphins, allowing just two hits on Flacco and clearing space for Ravens backs to average 6.6 yards a carry.

Ever since Yanda returned from a shoulder injury and switched to left guard, the line-up has stabilized. Right tackle Rick Wagner has played some of the best games of his career, and rookie Ronnie Stanley has settled in at left tackle. Center Jeremy Zuttah has also played better.

"Ronnie's playing really well, and that's probably the biggest thing," Harbaugh said. "You know Marshal's going to play well."

He said Stanley's technique deteriorated noticeably when he missed time with a foot injury. But in recent weeks, the rookie has played like a worthy No. 6 overall pick.

"Taking those four games off is tough for a young player," Yanda said. "And he's playing left tackle. He's going to get the best rushers every week. So coming back, he struggled a little bit. But a rookie's going to go through his growing pains, but Ronnie's going to be a player in this league."

It's hard to overstate how big an improvement we've seen from a unit that was plagued by injuries and ill-timed penalties through the first half of the season.  An area of great uncertainty has transformed into a real foundation for the offense.


4.) Steve Smith and Timmy Jernigan remind us of the fine line between passion and self-destruction.

From Ray Nitschke to Lawrence Taylor to Brett Favre, the NFL has long celebrated players who perform on the verge of losing control.

If they're talented enough, fans and coaches forgive their excesses. If not, they don't last long.

Late in the first quarter Sunday, with the Ravens trying to build on a 14-point lead, Jernigan received a 15-yard penalty when he head-butted a Miami player after the defense had stopped the Dolphins for no gain.

Jernigan's exuberance has been a double-edged sword throughout his career. He fires up the crowd and teammates with his histrionics after big stops. But every so often, he goes too far.

The Ravens have tried to walk a tightrope by asking him to be more mature without dulling his competitive edge.  And their approach has generally worked; we've seen a more controlled Jernigan in his third season.


Meanwhile, in the second quarter, Smith was flagged for 10 yards after he jammed his hand into a defender's chin. That came after Smith was called for unnecessary roughness penalties in each of the previous two games.

More than any Raven I've watched, No. 89 brings to life that old cliche of playing like a man possessed. No matter the game circumstances and no matter what teammates say to soothe him, he seems unable to pull himself away from the fierce man-on-man confrontations that comprise a typical NFL Sunday.

But without that ferocity, Smith would likely not be playing at a high level in his 16th professional season. In fact, teammates, fans and coaches love him for it.

Pro football is ultimately richer because of characters such as Jernigan and Smith. They bring a tension to the game that can't be penalized or coached out of existence.

5.) If you want to know why the Ravens are better in 2016, look no further than the turnover margin.

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The Ravens intercepted Tannehill three times and pushed their turnover margin to plus-5 on the season (they were tied for sixth best in the league coming in).


That's a quantum leap from last season, when they finished tied for 30th in the league with a minus-14 margin. The Ravens have now intercepted 14 passes through 12 games after picking off just six all of last season.

"We work on it, we talk about it, we preach it," said safety Eric Weddle, who made his third interception of the season on a deflected ball. "Turnovers are the great equalizer in any situation."

The most impressive pick of the day belonged not to Weddle but to fellow safety Lardarius Webb, who ran down a pass by Tannehill in the end zone and managed to stay in bounds. The interception was Webb's first of the season, but he has generally played better at safety than he had at cornerback in recent seasons.

Weddle said he recently challenged Webb to be a great player.

"I respond," Webb said. "I try to practice that way. I study that way."

There's always some luck baked into a team's turnover margin. But the Ravens are also the most dangerous they've been on the back end since Ed Reed was in his prime.