Please welcome in Jeff Zrebiec from The Baltimore Sun, which is the leading source for insight on Ravens football, to shed some light on the Dolphins’ Week 5 opponent.
My questions for Jeff and his answers are below:
Dolphins Gab: Which game do you believe will prove more indicative of the 2013 Ravens: Blowing out the Texans by 21 in Week 3 or losing to the Bills this past Sunday?
Jeff Zrebiec: Somewhere in between probably but I think the Bills’ game was a reminder that the Ravens are still very much a work-in progress. It is a completely different team from the one that won the Super Bowl eight months ago. The Ravens have had a ton of roster turnover and they are still searching for an offensive identity a little bit with Anquan Boldin gone, Dennis Pitta injured, Matt Birk retired and the running game struggling so much. I think they’ll show flashes of what kind of team they could be early in the season but it won’t be until later on in the season when they are playing at a higher level as a team. The inconsistency week-to-week and within each game is emblematic of a team still trying to figure out what its strengths are right now.
DG: Why has the Ravens’ running game been so ineffective through four games?
JZ: The offensive line is the most obvious answer. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie has never been a good run blocker. First-year starting center Gino Gradkowski has struggled and the Ravens really miss Birk’s stability in anchoring the group. Nobody on the line is really playing up to the level they played at last year. But it goes beyond that, too. The Ravens seem to be struggling a little bit to pick up on some of the stuff that run game coordinator Juan Castillo, who was added before the season, wants them to do. And their two running backs – Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce – have run tentatively at times as well.
DG: How dangerous could Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs be on Sunday against a Dolphins offensive line that has already allowed 18 sacks?
JZ: The Ravens’ pass rush has sort of been the one constant for them through four games. Suggs has a sack in each game and appears to be back to the Defensive Player of the Year form that he was playing at before his Achilles’ injury last year. Dumervil has flashed at times and Chris Canty, Arthur Jones and Haloti Ngata are all pass-rushing threats on the interior. The Ravens have a lot of pass rushers and I’m sure they’ll be looking to get after Ryan Tannehill on Sunday.
DG: Should the recently traded for left tackle, Eugene Monroe, shore up Baltimore’s pass protection issues right away?
JZ: Monroe should help although he struggled a little bit in his first four games with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And as I mentioned above, McKinnie was hardly the only issue on the offensive line. Gradkowski and left guard Kelechi Osemele have to play much better as well. So while Monroe represents a clear upgrade, he won’t be a cure-all to what has ailed the offensive line.
DG: Any concern with quarterback Joe Flacco’s performance at the quarter mark of the season?
JZ: Not really. Flacco still hasn’t developed the chemistry that he needs to have with his new targets but that should be expected. With Boldin gone, Pitta hurt and Jacoby Jones injured, Torrey Smith is one of the only guys Flacco has an extensive history in throwing to and I think that clearly has resulted in him forcing some things at times. A nonexistent running game and poor offensive line play has only added to the burden on him. However, Flacco has had plenty of bad games in the past and he tends to bounce back well. There’s no question that he needs to play better and the Ravens are confident that he will.
DG: If you were Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, how would you game plan to move the football on the stingy Ravens defense?
JZ: I think the Dolphins are going to have to make sure that they don’t get one-dimensional and they keep hammering away with their running game even if they are getting stuffed early. If the Ravens’ pass rushers don’t have to respect the run, it will make life difficult on Tannehill. Miami also will need to take some deep shots down the field. The Ravens’ secondary has given up its share of big plays this year
DG: Finally, which team do you see winning this game? Final score?
JZ: I actually picked the Ravens to win, 20-17, in The Baltimore Sun but I feel even less confident about the pick than usual. It’s just hard to know what kind of team the Ravens are right now, given that they’ve played really good at times and horrible at others. The Dolphins are obviously a team on the rise and they pose a series of problems for the Ravens. Ultimately, though, I went with the Ravens because they have a history of bouncing back under John Harbaugh and they usually respond after bad losses.