Setting the Stage:
Another "early" (1 pm ET) game" this Sunday. Last week, Cards won a 31 - 23 see-saw contest vs. a highly regarded Washington team. Miami got torched by the Ravens 38 - 6 and don't figure to be very happy campers as they approach Sunday's game. The Dolphs hadn’t lost a game since Oct. 9, having beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Miami players are treating the Baltimore loss as an unexpected hiccup.
Miami's Last Game
Vikes lost to the Redskins in Washington 26 - 20. Vikes scored all twenty points in the 2nd quarter to build a 20 - 14 halftime lead. Redskins came back with 4 field goals in the second half to eke out the come-from-behind win.
Baltimore received the opening KO & returned it to their own 21. A 23-yd Flacco-to-S Smith completion and a 15-yd pass to Waller set up a 3-yd TD pass to West. Baltimore 7 - Dolphs 0.
TB on the KO. A 15-yd completion from Taneyhill to Sims and a 19-yd run off LG by Ajayi set up a 46-yard FG attempt by Franks that was wide-left. Ravens ball on their own 37. Four straight gains of +14, +10, +20 and +11-yd set up a 13-yd TD pass from Flacco to Pitta. Baltimore 14 - Dolphs 0.
KO was returned to the Miami 14. They reached the Raven 33 in 6 plays as the quarter ended.
First Quarter Score: Ravens 7 - Dolphs 0.
On the third play of the quarter - at the Raven 28 - Taneyhill's pass for PArker was intercepted and retunred to the Raven 20. But the Ravens gave it right back on the next play when Maxwell intercepted a Flacco pass and returned it to the Raven 38. A false-start flag and negative yardage on an Ajayi run forced Miami to punt from the Raven 38. Punt fair caught at the Raven 12. Flacco then engineered (your eyes are correct) 18-play 8:57 drive capped by a 9-yd TD pass to Pitta. Baltimore 21 - Dolphs 0.
2:10 left till halftime. TB on the KO. A Taneyhill fumble on an aborted snap helped derail the Miami drive and they punted from their own 45.. Punt out of bounds at the Raven 15 with 0:59 to go Flacco moved the Raven offense to the Miami 37 in 6 plays, where Tucker then kicked a 55-yard FG with 0:04 on the clock (his 35th consecutiive successful FG attempt). Baltimore 24 - Dolphs 0.
2nd Half Score: Ravens 24 - Miami 0.
Miami received. TB on the KO. Dolphs made it to the Balt 29 in 7 plays before Tannehill's pass (deep middle) to Landry was intercepted by Weddle. Balt took over on the Miami 45 but went 3 & out. Miami made it as far as its own 48 before punting away. Punt (net penmalty) gave Balt the ball on its own 6-yd line. A 25-yd pass to Pitta moved them out to their own 33. They eventually made it to their own 50 before punting. Punt fair caught at the Dolph 7-yd line. Mimi couldn't get past its own 21. Punt (net penalty) gave Ravens the ball at their own 20, and they picked up another 6 yards to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Ravens 24 - Miami 0.
Balt ball on their own 26. A fumble by Pitta on the first play of the quarter was recovered by Hewitt and returned 27-yds to the Raven 8. On the first play of the Miami possession, Tanneyhiill hit Parker (short-right) for a TD. 2-pt conversion no good. Ravens 24 - Dolphs 6
TB on the KO, On the fourth pay from scrimmage, Flacco hit Perriman (short middle) for a 53-yd TD. . Ravens 31 - Dolphs 6
TB on the KO. Within a penalty-ridden possession. the Dolphs made it out to their own 29 where Darr's punt was downed at the Raven 45. Balt held to 3 & out. Punt fair caught at the Dolph 14. On the fifth play of the Miami possession, Tannehill's short-right pass for Sills was picked off by Powers. Balt ball on the Miami 41. On the fourth play of the possession, West circled right end for a 9-yd score. Ravens 38 - Dolphs 6
TB on the KO. 5:55 left. Three & Outsville. Punt returned to the Raven 29 with 3:37 to go. Ravens ran out the clock. Ravens 38 - Dolphs 6
Final Score: Ravens 38 - Dolphs 6.
Team Stats to Date
First Downs - Dolphs 291 / Opponents 351
Third Down Conversions - Dolphs 63/205 / Opponents96/221
Fourth Down Conversions - Dolphs 8/22 / Opponents 4/12
Offensive Yards -Dolphs 5,307 / Opponents 6,019
Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Dolphs 344/4.3 / Opponents 502/4.0
Passing Compl/Att/Int/AvgYds -Dolphs 365/588/12/7.2. Opponents - 350/542/13/7.8
Sacks Dolphs 31.0 / Opponents 45.0
Field Goals -Dolphs 13/16/ Opponents 21/29
Time of Possession -Dolphs 27:22/ Opponents 32:38
Turnover Ratio - +12
Key Player Stats
Passing: Tannehill - 363 of 586 for 4,208 yds, 61.9%, 7.2 YPA 24 TD's, 12 Ints. 88.7 Rating.
Rushing: Miller -194 for 872 yds (4.5 YPA). 8 TD's. Ajayi - 49 for 187 yds (3.8 YPA). Tannehill - 32 for 141, (4.4 YPA)
Receiving: Landry: 110 for 1,157 yds (10.5 ypr), 4 TD's.Miller: 47 for 397 (8.4 ypr), 2 TD's. Matthews: 43 for 662 (15.4 ypr), 4 TD's. Cameron: 35 for 386 (11.0 ypr) 3 TD's.
Field Goals - Franks missed 3 of 16.
Punting -Darr 47.6 gross avg
Punt Returns - Landry - 9.9 ypr, 1 TD
Kickoff Returns - D Williams- 21.8 YPR. Landry - 24.7 YPR
Tackles - R Jones (135), K Sheppard (105), M Thomas (85) Misii (78), J Jenkins (71)
Sacks -( Dolphs: 31/Opponents 45). Vernon (7.5), Wake (7.0), Suh (6.0), Shelby (3.5)
Interceptions - 13 Picks (Opponents had 12): R Jones (5), Grimes (4),
Fumble Recoveries -Dolphs had 8; Opponents had 14. Wake had 4. Shelby had 2.
WR......10 Stills (BA)..........83 Duarte (P)
LT.........76 Albert (P)..........79 Young (P)
LG.......67 Tunsil (A)
OC .51 Pouncey (A).....65 Steen (P)...............64 Brendel (P)
RG 74 Bushrod (P).......60 Urbik (P)
RT 70 James (A)..........xx Harris (NA)
TE 80 Sims (P)............48 Gray (P)................85 D Jones (A)
QB ....13 Tanneyhill (AA)..08 M Moore (NA)
23 Ajayi (AA)..........26 D Williams (BA).....32 Drake (BA)...
WR ....14 Landry (AA)......19 J Grant (P)
WR.....11 D Parker (A)......88 Carroo (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality. R = Rookie))
LDE 93 Campbell (HQ) .....72 Stinson (P)
NT 98 Peters (A)..............69 X Williams (P)......72 Pierre (NA)
DT 95 Gunter (P)........)....92 Rucker (P) ..........97 Mauro (A)..........90 Nkemdiche (P)
SLB 55 C Jones (HQ).........57 Okafor (A)
ILB 20 Bucannon (A) .......52 Gooden (P)
ILB 51 Minter (A)..............54 Moore (P)
WLB 44 Golden (AA).......... 96 K Martin (P)
LCB 21 Peterson HQ)........29 Simon (A)
RCB 27 T Branch (A)..........41 Cooper (P)..........26 B Williams (P) ...28 Bethel (P)
SS 36 Swearinger (AA)....32 Mathieu (A)
FS 22 T Jefferson (HQ)...
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality. R = Rookie. Inc. = Incomplete Info)
Matchup: Dolph Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
One local beat writer on Tannehill: "One game does not and should not change what he has already accomplished this season. He had a bad game. Made some ill-advised throws. But he went six in a row playing awfully well and that is certainly a more powerful statement than one three-interception game in Baltimore.
Dolphs have a super star receiver in Jarvis Landry (who cought 11 passes vs. Baltimore last Sunday), but their passing offense is kind of lopsided. (Landry has 110 catches for 1,165 yards, but with little or no threat coming from the TE, RB or backup receivers. Look for the Cards to put Patrick Peterson on Landry and possibly let T Branch help out Cooper covering backup pass catchers.
Like many other NFL teams (including the Cardinals) the Dolphin OL is banged up. Albert and Tunsil are coming off injuries (but looked rusty in their return vs. Baltimore). The two Miami OT's (Albert and Bushrod) are rated "Poor" by PFF.
Cardinal pass rushers are just now beginning to hit their groove and work well as a unit. In general, C Jones and Golden are the "pincers" with Calais Campbell exploding up the middle. Bettcher then brings other pass rushers into the picture with a variety of surprise packages (witness Minter's sack in the 1st quarter vs. Washington).
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Landry. C Jones, Branch and Cooper vs. Stills. Cardinal safeties vs. Tannehill.
Matchup: Dolph Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Dolphins are averaging 4.3 YPG on the ground, yet opposing offenses have dialed up 502 carries this season to 344 for Miami. Last week's struggle vs. the Ravens has caused knowledgeable fans to lobby for heavier doses of Ajayi vs. the Cards.
Jay Ajayi is a tackle-breaking tough runner who replaced starter Lamar Miller. He's averagong 3.8 yds per carry for the season but was well above the 4.0 average vs. Baltimore.
Cardinals rank very high vs. the run, but have demonstrated that they can be taken apart by a physical ground game (like Blount and the Patriots). We could see a lot of Ajayi early - until the Cards stop him.
Key Matchups: Rotational run-defense (especially Mauror, Minter and Okeafor) vs. Dolphin OL and Ajayi.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald (HQ)......10 Golden (P).........18 Bundy (R)
LT 74 Humphries (BA)
LG 76 Iupati (A)
C 53 Shipley (AA)..........70 Boehm (A)..........65 Boggs (P)
RG 73 Wetzel (P).............78 Watford (P).........61 Toner (R)
RT........75 John (P)
TE .85 Fells (BA)..............89 Valles (P)
WR2 15 M. Floyd (P)..........12 John Brown (A)..14 JJ Nelson (P)
QB 03 Palmer* (A)...........05 Stanton (P)
RB 31 D Johnson (AA)....38 Ellington (BA).....30 Taylor (BA).........33 K Williams (BA)
TE 84 Gresham (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality R = Rookie. Inc = Incomplete Info))
DE......91 Wake (HQ)..................50 Branch (A).....78 Fede (P)
DT......93 Suh (HQ)
DT......59 Phillips (P)...................90 Mitchell (P)
DE.....94 M Williams (A).............75 N Williams (P)
LB.....56 Butler (BA) ..................42 Paysinger (A).....49 Vigil (NA)
LB....47 Alonso* (A)....................45 Hull (A)
LB....53 J Jenkins (P).................46 Hewitt (P)........55 Misi (P)
CB....41 Maxwell (HQ) ..............28 McCain (BA).....40 Pitts (R)
CB....25 Howard (P)..................36 Lippett (A).....21 Lucas (R)
S......24 Abdul-Quddus (AA)......30 Rambo (A)
S....31 M Thomas (P).................35 Aikens (NA)
* Alonso had surgery to repair broken thumb but still might play vs. Arizona. PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality, R = Rookie)
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Dolph Pass Defense
Ravens shredded the Dolphins last week - countering the Wake, Vernon, Suh pass rush extravaganza with an effective quick-release short passing game.
While the Miami faithful consider the Baltimore performance a mere speed-bump, there are concerns that the Cardinal coaching staff will pour over the tape to uncover chronic Dolphin weaknesses that can be exploited.
Miami CB Maxwell is rated "High Quality" by PFF and figures to be paired off in coverage with Larry Fitzgerald. That leaves Xavien Howard to cover the #2 Cardinal wideout - & that could be Floyd, Nelson (or John Brown if Smokey can solve his Sickel Cell leg woes).
Kiko Alonso broke his thumb last week, had surgery and still may play Sunday. If he can't, the Dolphs will rely on backup Mike Hull (whom Gase had good words for after the Baltimore contest.
When every Cardinal receiver is executing, their offense is hard to stop. But it's hard to predict from week-to-week whether Floyd, JJ and Smokey will hang onto contested passes. Adding to the Cardinal threat is multi-threat RB David Johnson who is often used yo stretch out opposing defenses as another receiver. Last week, we also saw Cardinal TE Jermaine Gresham come into his own to make a couple of clutch grabs.
Key Matchups: Fitz vs, Maxwell. Floyd, Brown or Nelson vs. Howard. D Johnson vs. Gresham vs. Abdul Quddus. Gresham vs. a LB or Safety - Or they could keep him in to pass block if need-be.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Dolph Run Defense
(We're still wondering why opposing offenses run the ball many more times than do the Dolphins).
Note - Byron Maxwell has forced 4 fumbles thus far this year (tying him with Keanu Neal for the NFL lead. Kiko Alonso had surgery on his busted thumb, but CW is that his replacement Mike Hull is a better run-stopper (i.e. when he hits a runner, the runner stays hit).
We're a bit wary when our RB is being singled out as "the best player in the NFL right now." (Did we hear right, Carson? Larry)?
Let's get real and heed what our eyes tell us: We've got ourselves a 225 lb running back who can bull his way up the middle with tacklers on his back for extra yardage or break ankles with a deadly "jump cut" in the hole or turn difficult short passes into long gainers and lead the team in TD's. And - he does it week in and week out. Best player in the NFL? Well, that's a pretty tall order. But if not, DJ is pretty freakin' close.
And he's doing it behind a patchwork offensive line just beginning to learn how to play together.
For Carson Palmer to be effective, it helps to have the "fear of the run" everpresent on every offensive play. This week will be no different. The Cardinals figure to run the ball until Miami makes them stop. And Miami figures to do whatever is needed to stop us.
Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Hull and Suh. Cardinal OL vs. Miami front seven
K 03 Franks
P 04 Darr
H 04 Darr
LS 92 Denney
KR 19 Grant
PR 14 Landry
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 46 Brewer
KR 38 Ellington
PR 12 Jn Brown
Matchup: Dolph Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Franks and Catanzaro are not the epitome of consistency, Butler may be replaced. Neither team's return game is anything to write home about.
Key matchups: Coverage teams in general vs. home run threat.
MI: This will be a challenging week for Gase and his staff. They have a lot to go over, a lot of corrections to make. The urgency is only amplified by the time of the year. Weeks like this could really define what this coaching staff is about. There is a delicate balance between maintaining a belief and focusing on your shortcomings. That’s what the next few days will be all about.
Interesting matchup factoid - Dolphshave been outscored 83-27 in the first quarter this season, the largest first quarter point disparity in the league. Cards finally got off the "opening drive scoring schneid" with a long TD march to open the Wash game.
AZ: Cards remain one game behind Seattle, but have to maintain the level of play they exhibited vs. Washington. There's no reason why the Cards can't be at the cusp of a new winning streak, (but it's equally within their grasp to fall back into the abyss. It will be up to BA to keep the Cards pointed in the right direction and his injury-depleted squad playing at a high level.
Crunch time. Cards took the first step out of 5 they need to make to reach the playoffs. Dolphs got smashed around pretty good by Baltimore. Throw those games into the trash bin - these are two good teams fighting for their lives.
The team who plays hardest and screws up the least will win this sucker.