After beating the New York Jets, the Ravens will face a respectable team Sunday in their home opener against the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens played well in the second half of their 24-9 season-opening victory, but the win was somewhat tainted because it came against the no-good, god-awful, basement-dwelling Jets.
Miami will be a step up in quality, especially after it convincingly beat the New England Patriots, 20-7, in Week 1. There is particular interest in this matchup because the Dolphins blitzed the Ravens heavily and pressed their receivers in a 22-10 victory last season, revealing a blueprint other teams copied in slowing down quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The spotlight is also on the Ravens’ defense after it played well last week despite allowing 378 yards of total offense. Two things that stood out Sunday were the Ravens’ team speed and how well they could mix and match coverages.
But again, that was against the Jets, a team Baltimore powerhouse St. Frances Academy would give a tough game. The Dolphins and their revamped offense under first-year coach Mike McDaniel will be more of a challenge.
The West Coast offense is nothing new in the NFL, but speed is still a major staple of any scheme, and Miami has plenty of it.
“Offensively, to your point, it’s the San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan, kind of grew out of the old Gary Kubiak offense, and now Sean McVay, all those guys are kind of in the same family, and that’s what this is,” Harbaugh said of the Miami offense. “It’s in the same tree that we saw last week, in terms of what they do, how they operate, a lot of the words they use are the same, the scheme is essentially the same, but they’ve changed it.
“They’ve done a good job down there, and Coach McDaniel has done a great job of tailoring it to their players, tailoring it to their quarterback [Tua Tagovailoa]. He’s done a good job, gets the ball out quick. A lot of RPOs, because he’s good at that, a lot of movement passes.”
Miami has two standout receivers, including Tyreek Hill, who might be the fastest player in the NFL. In three games against Baltimore when he played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Hill had 16 catches for 230 yards and one touchdown.
Hill was traded to Miami on March 23 in exchange for five draft picks, and that paired him with another speedster in Jaylen Waddle, who caught 104 passes for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie last season.
In Miami’s win against the Ravens last year, Waddle caught four passes for 61 yards and repeatedly burned cornerback Marlon Humphrey on the outside. Humphrey has been generally regarded as one of the league’s top corners, but the Ravens have trouble defending fast receivers on the outside even with Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters on the field. Peters’ status for Sunday is still in doubt as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered before the start of last season.
“They have two of the fastest receivers in football playing for them,” Harbaugh said, “and two running backs who run that scheme extremely well, and what I mean by that is the wide-zone-type scheme. So, that’s kind of how they’re built on offense.”
Against the Jets, the Ravens came up with several different coverages, including playing cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Brandon Stephens on the outside with Humphrey lining up inside. They used Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark at safety, but sometimes had Williams in the middle of the field to handle the deep third alone.
The Ravens have two speedy cornerbacks in rookies Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams, but it’s unlikely they’ll match up against Hill one-on-one. They might get more playing time, though, with Fuller out for the season after tearing his ACL late in the second half against the Jets and Stephens dealing with a quadriceps injury.
One thing you won’t have to worry about: defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald won’t leave his cornerbacks in as many vulnerable one-on-one situations as predecessor Don “Wink” Martindale because he doesn’t blitz as much. Speedsters like Hill and Waddle can change the complexion of a game in seconds, and they were brought in to aid Tagovailoa in getting more yards after the catch.
A year ago, Miami had a small-ball passing game, one that consisted of shorts routes. Now, the Dolphins use a little bit of everything, including run-pass options, crossing routes, comeback routes and bootlegs. A lot of it is predicated off play action.
There are still concerns about Tagovailoa’s arm strength, but McDaniel is expected to call more downfield passes than the previous coaching regime. The Dolphins get the ball to Hill as many ways as possible with jet sweeps, bubble screens, slants, tosses and reverses. That should be another concern for the Ravens.
Miami also has outstanding speed to the edge in running back Raheem Mostert. Sometimes the Dolphins just toss the ball to the former track star to get him outside the tackles quickly.
“Any time you face people like that, it’s a tough challenge, and you’ve just got to give respect where it’s due,” Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “So, the biggest thing for us is just to come out there, take good angles to the football with everybody running to the ball at the stack and just try to get these guys on the ground — get shots on them.”
The Ravens’ front seven was extremely active against the Jets. They pursued the ball quickly because they didn’t get knocked off their feet. It’s one thing to get beat physically at the line of scrimmage, but pursuit is about desire. Queen, outside linebacker Justin Houston and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Justin Madubuike dogged Jets quarterback Joe Flacco all day.
Even nose tackle Michael Pierce was making tackles to the far side of the field. Safeties Williams and Clark played firm run support.
The Ravens’ defensive line has the advantage against Miami’s offensive line. Both Dolphins tackles, Terron Armstead (toe) and Austin Jackson (ankle), are dealing with injuries, and center Connor Williams is inconsistent snapping the ball.
The big question is can the Ravens play that well again on defense for a second straight week?
Tagovailoa will certainly be more mobile than Flacco. How will Macdonald hold up against McDaniel, a respected play caller throughout the league?
Is Miami’s speed too much to handle?
The only thing we know for sure is this: The Dolphins are better than the Jets, at least on paper.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 3 1/2