BALTIMORE — The Miami Dolphins may have the worst total offense in the NFL, and the 31st-best offense in scoring and third downs, but they also have a chance to win a fourth straight game and enter a mini-bye at 5-2.
The Ravens are even more banged up than the Dolphins. Remarkably, Baltimore’s passing offense may be even worse. And their defense, always very stout against the run, is very vulnerable.
This is the type of game a playoff team finds the way to win, on the road, in a nationally-televised contest. Of course, Miami’s next two games are on national television, too.
Here are five guys under the most stress tonight:
• Matt Moore, quarterback — If Jay Cutler has a realistic chance to come back in 10 days against the Oakland Raiders, this really is a chance for Moore to let it fly. You’d think Baltimore will stack the box against Jay Ajayi and the run, giving Moore a few downfield opportunities. Perhaps to Kenny Stills. Perhaps to Jakeem Grant. Moore has been one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL when given the opportunity. Tonight, on national television, is a chance for Moore to create a legacy-defining game. Just don’t screw it up. The Ravens aren’t very good at many things, but they do lead the NFL with 10 interceptions.
• Laremy Tunsil, left tackle — Tunsil was walking with a noticeable limp in the locker room this week, due to a knee injury that knocked him out of the Jets game. If Tunsil starts, and he’s says he’s going to try to play, he can’t allow Terrell Suggs to run around him for a sack and/or sack-turnover two or three times. This is perhaps the most critical matchup of the game. Suggs is also dealing with a knee injury but practiced in full on Tuesday. Tunsil also needs good communication with projected starting left guard Jesse Davis on stunts, which has been an issue this season. If Tunsil goes out, add Sam Young at left tackle or whoever goes to left guard (Jake Brendel?) with Davis sliding over to left tackle, to this list. And move them up to number one on the list.
• Kiko Alonso, linebacker — When the Dolphins were crushed at the Ravens last season, 38-6, some of the players who were trying to cover the middle of the field on defense included Spencer Paysinger, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Bacarri Rambo, now all gone from the roster, and Michael Thomas, whose role has been more limited to special teams. Last season, as outlined in the 2016 version of “The Tape Don’t Lie: Dolphins at Ravens,” Joe Flacco hit the tight end 12 times, including left (3), right (3) and middle (6). This year, Baltimore’s top tight end is Ben Watson, who missed last season due to a torn Achilles suffered in preseason. Dolphins killer Dennis Pitta (9-90-2 last season vs. Miami) was released following a hip injury. Which brings us to this — Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons must do a solid job in coverage against Watson and Ravens running back Buck Allen, who leads the Ravens with 31 catches.
• Jesse Davis, guard/tackle — In this game, it appears Davis will play left guard. The Dolphins and Davis are fortunate they tried to break him into the NFL with a few series at guard in early-season games. That had stopped, because, frankly, Davis had struggled at times, allowing pressures or sacks. He’s a natural tackle with the potential to develop into a run-mauling guard. But he’s still raw. You just know the Ravens are going to bring some confusing blitz packages to confuse the youngster, who told me after the Jets game that not panicking is his most important key. And Davis hasn’t had much time to study specific Ravens tendencies this week. When Davis (6-feet-6, 321 pounds) is matched up with Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams (6-feet-1, 340 pounds) that could be an intriguing matchup between two massive, powerful men.
• Cordrea Tankersley, cornerback — Byron Maxwell had a decent game in coverage against the Ravens last season, and the rookie Tankersley will be called upon to do the same thing tonight. If wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (concussion) and/or wide receiver Mike Wallace (concussions) play tonight, Flacco figures to take a few downfield shots against Tankersley, who was beaten deep twice against the Jets. Flacco isn’t having a good season, at all, and figures to be under pressure in a lower-scoring game tonight. But all it takes is one or two deep beats to chance the entire complexion of a tight game.
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