Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown is looking forward to returning to Florida to play in front of family and friends against the Miami Dolphins.
Here’s who has the edge on offense, defense and special teams in Sunday’s Week 1 game between the Ravens and Dolphins in Miami.
RAVENS PASSING GAME: The Ravens expect second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson to take a significant step forward as a passer after he completed 58.2% of his throws and finished with an 84.5 quarterback rating as a rookie. Jackson displayed more consistent mechanics throughout training camp and the preseason than he did as a rookie. He’ll throw to a redesigned receiving corps, with speedy rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin slotting in for departed veterans Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Marquise Brown missed the beginning of training camp as he recovered from Lisfranc surgery on his foot but is clear to go against the Dolphins. Jackson will also rely heavily on his tight ends, led by second-year breakout candidate Mark Andrews, who averaged 16.2 yards per catch as a rookie.
DOLPHINS PASSING GAME: Though they traded for 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen in the offseason, the Dolphins will start veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Fitzpatrick started fast for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year (11 touchdown passes in his first three games) and the Ravens respect his ability to get hot. But Fitzpatrick is notoriously mistake-prone (148 interceptions in 141 career games). None of the Dolphins’ top three receivers — Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and DeVante Parker — caught more than 26 passes last year, though Ravens coach John Harbaugh said his defense will have to account for Miami’s excellent team speed. The Dolphins finished 31st in the league in yards per attempt last year with a different set of quarterbacks.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens transformed into the most productive running team in the NFL with Jackson at quarterback in the second half of last season. He amassed 695 yards himself, despite starting just seven games. With Greg Roman at offensive coordinator, they’ll still rely on Jackson to keep defenses off balance but will likely reduce his carries. The Ravens signed veteran Mark Ingram II to be their lead runner, with power-running 2018 breakout Gus Edwards and shifty rookie Justice Hill behind him. The 29-year-old Ingram started just six games last year for the New Orleans Saints but averaged 4.7 yards and scored six touchdowns, in line with his career production.
DOLPHINS RUNNING GAME: Running back Kenyan Drake played behind Frank Gore last year but averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry and caught 53 passes on 73 targets. Backup Kalen Ballage also played well in limited duty, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The Dolphins did their skill players no favors when they traded their best offensive lineman, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, to the Houston Texans a week before the start of the season.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens lost their top run defender in middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and will ask fourth-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor to step into an unfamiliar role as the signal caller at the heart of their defense. They’ll lean on two second-year linebackers, Chris Board and Kenny Young, to supplement Onwuasor from the weak side. Safety Tony Jefferson led their secondary with 74 combined tackles last year. The Ravens will again rely on their twin battering rams, defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, to occupy opposing blockers. Williams and Pierce ranked among the league’s top interior run defenders last year, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry in 2018, third best in the league.
DOLPHINS RUSH DEFENSE: The Dolphins recently traded linebacker Kiko Alonso, their leading tackler in 2018, to the New Orleans Saints. In return, they picked up Vince Biegel, who has never started an NFL game. They also released safety T.J. McDonald, their top tackler in the secondary last season. Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan is the most productive player returning from a defense that allowed 4.8 yards per carry, seventh worst in the league in 2018. The Dolphins did add 315-pound defensive tackle Christian Wilkins with their first-round pick this year.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens held opponents to 5.4 yards per pass attempt last season with one of the deepest defensive backfields in the NFL. With free-agent acquisition Earl Thomas III in for Eric Weddle at free safety and 2017 No. 1 pick Marlon Humphrey playing like a rising All-Pro candidate, they’re perhaps even more talented on the back end. But they face significant questions about their pass rush after outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs departed in free agency. Fourth-year outside linebacker Matthew Judon has produced 15 sacks over the past two seasons. But behind him, the Ravens will rely on veteran Pernell McPhee, who went sackless in 13 games last season, and third-year outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, both of whom disappointed in 2018.
DOLPHINS PASS DEFENSE: Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard is a rare remaining star on Miami’s roster. He picked off seven passes in 12 games last season. The Dolphins have dumped several projected regulars from their front seven in the past week, including Nate Orchard, their most productive pass rusher in the preseason. The moves have weakened the short-term outlook for a defense that already allowed opponents to average 7.3 yards per attempt last season.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker made 35 of 39 field-goal attempts last season and ranks as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Sam Koch delivered a typically solid season in 2018, putting 45% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Homegrown Cyrus Jones gave the Ravens a boost in 2018, averaging 14.4 yards on 18 punt returns after the team struggled to find a regular returner early in the season.
DOLPHINS SPECIAL TEAMS: Incumbent kicker Jason Sanders made 18 of 20 field-goal attempts last season. Matt Haack averaged just 39.3 net yards per punt last season, bottom 10 among NFL starters. But he put 40.2% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, 12th-best in the league. Grant was excellent on special teams last year, averaging 16.3 yards on 14 punt returns and 29.7 yards on 18 kickoff returns, with two return touchdowns.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens signed Harbaugh to a four-year contract after he took them to the playoffs for the seventh time in his 11 seasons as head coach. The Ravens have won seven of their past eight meetings with the Dolphins, including playoffs, and won the past two by a combined score of 78-6. They enter the season without any major injury concerns beyond the loss of nickel cornerback Tavon Young.
DOLPHINS INTANGIBLES: The Dolphins appear to be in full-on rebuild mode under first-year coach Brian Flores, who previously served as linebackers coach for the New England Patriots. They’ve spent the offseason jettisoning projected starters from a team that went 7-9 last year under Adam Gase. And they’re going with Fitzpatrick at quarterback instead of seeing what they have in Rosen.
PREDICTION: The Dolphins have perhaps the worst roster in the league and seem intent on trimming it by the day. They lack the front-line defensive talent to stop a Jackson-led offense from running wild. Fitzpatrick could pose a threat if he finds his rhythm early, but the Ravens’ secondary will blanket Miami’s skill players in an easy season-opening victory. Ravens 30, Dolphins 13.