Monday night in New Orleans was the 2013 Miami Dolphins’ first true test on the big stage. But their second first true test will arguably be more crucial to their success.
How will this team handle adversity?
Every team faces adversity at some point. And it’s not how or why said adversity has come about, but how a team responds to it that can make or break a season.
Well, the Dolphins are in the midst of some adversity. They were just blown out on national television and must recover quickly for an angry Ravens team on a short week.
Win on Sunday, and all will be right in Miami again. The Dolphins would be 4-1 heading into their bye week with a less daunting schedule on the other side. It’s time to find out what this team is made of.
Here are three must-watch matchups for Sunday’s game:
Jonathan Martin vs. Terrell Suggs
There may not be a matchup on Sunday that looks as one-sided as this one. The Ravens are far from the same team that won the Super Bowl eight months ago, but one thing that remains the same is Terrell Suggs’ ability to rush the quarterback.
Suggs was a model of consistency in September, sacking the quarterback once in all four games. On Sunday, he’ll be looking for his first multiple sack outing of the season, primarily working on suspect left tackle Jonathan Martin.
Marin is currently the No. 42 tackle out of 60 eligible at the position in pass protection rankings, according to Pro Football Focus. He hasn’t quite been the revolving door Tyson Clabo is on the opposite side of the line, but he hasn’t been much better, either.
Suggs could feast on Sunday, which would make quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s ability to dissect a vulnerable secondary much more difficult. And given Baltimore’s ability to stuff the run, the Dolphins’ likely won’t move the ball consistently on offense without decent pass protection.
Brent Grimes vs. Torrey Smith
Head coach Joe Philbin recently told the South Florida media that the Dolphins are not opposed to shadowing the opposition’s top receiving threat with cornerback Brent Grimes.
Grimes has been one of the top cover corners in the entire NFL through four weeks and has outstanding ball-hawking skills, which make testing him a gamble. Miami has entrenched Grimes on the left boundary so far, though, meaning offenses have simply been able to move their go-to targets to the opposite side of the field in order to avoid him.
If there was ever a game for the Dolphins to break that mold, it’s this one. Ravens wideout Torrey Smith currently ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards with 435. That puts him on pace for over 1,700 yards for the season.
Smith lines up on the right side of Baltimore’s offensive formation plenty, but he also operates from the left. When he’s flipped, Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll would be the one assigned with covering the Maryland product.
Carroll has been a much improved player for Miami this season, but only Grimes has the potential to truly contain a playmaker like Smith. Jacoby Jones might return to the lineup this week after missing the past three games, but Smith was Joe Flacco’s only highly productive target during the first month of the season.
The Ravens project to be largely one dimensional offensively on Sunday without much of a running game to speak of. If the Dolphins can find a way to limit Torrey Smith’s impact on this football game, it’s difficult to envision Baltimore’s offense putting up big numbers in Week 5.
Tyson Clabo vs. Elvis Dumervil
Yes, I’m going with another Dolphins offensive lineman versus a Ravens pass rusher. Truth be told, Miami’s ability to give Ryan Tannehill time in the pocket could very well be the deciding factor in this game.
There are plays to be had throwing against Baltimore’s secondary. Tannehill must have time to expose it, however. If Jonathan Martin can keep Terrell Suggs in check, there will still be a huge opportunity for former Bronco Elvis Dumervil to get after Tannehill.
Dumervil has registered 2.0 sacks in the first four games and has a chance to potentially double that total against right tackle Tyson Clabo, who ranks 52nd of 60 eligible tackles in pass blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus.
Clabo appeared to be a solid addition during the offseason, as he graded out as one of the better right tackles in the league in 2012. But so far this season, his dropoff has been drastic.
His play, along with the rest of the offensive line’s inability to consistently pass protect, could be preventing Ryan Tannehill from emerging as a top 10 quarterback in his second season.