RAVENS PASSING GAME: Perhaps a matchup with the Dolphins is what Joe Flacco needs to turn his season around. He is 5-0 in his career against Miami and he lit up the Dolphins last December for 381 yards and four touchdowns. Flacco still hasn’t thrown for 250 passing yards in a game this year. He eclipsed that number 10 times last season. The Ravens should get Jeremy Maclin back, which should help the downfield passing game. Eighty-nine of the Ravens’ 149 completions are to backs or tight ends.
DOLPHINS PASSING GAME: Matt Moore will get the start for an injured Jay Cutler, but it’s hardly unfamiliar territory for the veteran. He started three games last year and has 28 career starts. It’s not like the Dolphins offense was thriving with Cutler. The unit ranks 32nd in total offense (261.8 yards per game) and 30th in passing offense (180.2). That’s despite having a dynamic possession receiver in Jarvis Landry, who has touchdowns in three straight games, and a proven deep threat in Kenny Stills.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens were held to a season-low 64 rushing yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and they face another top run defense Thursday. With Terrance West expected to miss his third consecutive game, Alex Collins will get the start. The Ravens continue to use Collins on early downs before he gives way to Buck Allen, who is the team’s leading receiver out of the backfield. The Ravens rank 12th in the league in rushing, averaging 120.1 yards on the ground per game.
DOLPHINS RUNNING GAME: Miami has yet to replicate the success it had last year on the ground. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 81.7 yards per game. However, they figure to lean heavily on Jay Ajayi, given the Ravens’ struggles stopping the run. Ajayi, who had 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season, has yet to find the end zone this year and he’s averaging a modest 3.5 yards per carry. The Dolphins are 6-0 when he rushes for 100 yards.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: This continues to be the most head-scratching aspect of the Ravens’ slide. Even with Brandon Williams back, the Ravens allowed 169 rushing yards to Minnesota. They rank dead last in the NFL at stopping the run, giving up 145.3 yards per game. The Ravens have allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the past four games and at least 166 rushing yards in four of the past five. They’ve vowed to get it fixed, but it hasn’t happened. C.J. Mosley is tied for the league lead with 64 tackles.
DOLPHINS RUSH DEFENSE: The Dolphins made an investment in their run defense and it paid dividends. Veterans Lawrence Timmons and Rey Maualuga, two players the Ravens are familiar with from the AFC North, have brought toughness and experience. Ndamukong Suh remains one of the league’s most disruptive defensive linemen. Miami ranks fifth in the NFL in allowing 82.3 rushing yards per game and 3.61 yards per carry. The Dolphins haven’t allowing an opposing rusher to gain 70 yards this season.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The play of Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey on the outside has been the strength of the Ravens, but the group will be tested against a talented Miami receiving corps. Slowly but surely, undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill could be taking over slot duties for Lardarius Webb, who has been targeted often in recent weeks. The Ravens are tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions, but they’re still not getting enough heat on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing.
DOLPHINS PASS DEFENSE: Cameron Wake is coming off a 2½ sack performance last week against the New York Jets and he remains one of the league’s best pass rushers. The Ravens need to account for Wake and Suh at all times. Miami is allowing 225.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 17th in the NFL. The Dolphins have been good on third downs, limiting opponents to a 34.8 percent conversion rate. Rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersley has held up well, but he figures to be tested.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker continues to be the Ravens’ only reliable scoring weapon. He’s made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts this season and his 57-yard make last week gives him 30 field goals of beyond 50 yards, the most in the NFL since 2012. Sam Koch has put 13 punts this season inside the opponents’ 20, but the Ravens need to shore up their punt coverage, which was poor last week. Bobby Rainey has shown that he won’t hesitate to bring kickoffs out of the end zone.
DOLPHINS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Cody Parkey, who replaced an injured Patrick Murray, has delivered for the Dolphins, making all eight of his field-goal attempts, including three game-winners. He’s 6-for-6 from 50-plus yards in his career. The Dolphins’ kickoff coverage unit has been the best in the NFL, allowing an average starting field position of the 21-yard line after kickoffs. Landry, Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake are all used on returns.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens insist their confidence is fully intact, but they have the look of a reeling team these days. Their offense is an injury-plagued mess and their defense is has not delivered on its brash preseason talk. They can’t even count on their home dominance anymore as they’ve lost two straight at M&T Bank Stadium and played poorly in both games. The Ravens are 4-0 at home on Thursday Night Football and they’ve beaten the Dolphins in six of seven meetings under John Harbaugh.
DOLPHINS INTANGIBLES: Thursday night games are always more difficult on the road team because they lose all-important practice time in an already condensed week. Adam Gase’s team has to deal with that, but the Dolphins have won six of its past eight regular-season road games. Miami’s three-game winning streak has been fueled by some offensive improvements. The Dolphins are showing resolve by winning close games – their four wins are by a total of 14 points – and they’ve rallied behind Moore.
PREDICTION: If the Ravens are going to make anything of this season and stop a month-long slide, it probably has to start Thursday. A quality performance would be a nice statement to a nationally televised audience that reports of the team’s demise are overblown. However, the Ravens haven’t looked like a team capable of such a statement. Other than special teams and cornerback play, they’ve yet to reveal any definitive strengths. The Dolphins can be enigmatic, but they look like a team heading in the opposite direction of the Ravens.
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