The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are steaming after an upset loss to the Buffalo Bills, and the Miami Dolphins are coming off a 21-point drubbing against the New Orleans Saints on “Monday Night Football.”
Someone has to rebound in Week 5 when the Ravens travel to face the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Who will prevail? ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Dolphins reporter James Walker examine the key topics.
James Walker: A week ago the Ravens were 2-1 and coming off a blowout win against the Houston Texans, and the Dolphins were 3-0. But a couple of bad losses last weekend have taken some shine off this game. The Dolphins proved they were not ready for the spotlight or upper-echelon teams in a 38-17 loss to New Orleans. That loss has brought the Dolphins back to earth and made them regroup. Several Dolphins players have told me they look at this week's game as a character test to see how well they bounce back, and I agree. The Dolphins were embarrassed on a national stage, and this is the first hint of adversity this season's team has faced.
Jamison, the Ravens are coming off an unexpected loss to Buffalo. What's the mood of the team?
Jamison Hensley: Baltimore is a team that's taking a hard look at itself after taking one on the chin in Buffalo. All the talk this week is about what the Ravens can do to get better. They know they can't play like they did last week and beat anyone in the league. The Ravens need to open holes for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice (3-yard average) and protect Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (hit 12 times last Sunday). They have to play more physical on run defense (203 yards rushing allowed to the Bills).
No one has accepted the blame for the loss more than Flacco. He threw a career-worst five interceptions, including one that ended the Ravens' last-minute comeback. Flacco has a history of rebounding well from losses. In games following a defeat, he is 20-7 with a 95.2 passer rating. In those bounce-back games, he has completed 64.2 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. How do you think Ryan Tannehill will fare after his poor outing on national television?
Walker: This is Tannehill’s first bad game of the season. He was playing close to an MVP level in his first three games, but no one expected that to last the entire season. Tannehill laid his first egg against the Saints, and there's a small sample size on how the second-year pro will respond. He had two three-interception games as a rookie, and his bounce-back efforts were mixed. In Week 2 last season, Tannehill had a 91.0 passer rating, and in Week 12 he had a 46.9 passer rating. I asked Miami head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman how to coach a young quarterback to have a short memory. They both feel Tannehill's even-keel mentality will keep him off the roller coaster, but you never know with inexperienced quarterbacks. This will be a terrific litmus test playing against the Ravens' defense.
Speaking of Baltimore's defense, this is a group that has lost a lot of key players in free agency. One of them, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, is in Miami. What kind of defense will Tannehill and the Dolphins see Sunday?
Hensley: The Dolphins will face a Ravens defense that wants to come after Tannehill. The Ravens have 13 sacks this season, which is tied for eighth-most in the NFL. Six players have at least one sack this season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees loves to come from all angles. Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones collapse the pocket up the middle, and Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil come off the edges. Dumervil is coming off his worst game with the Ravens, but he has two sacks and 10 quarterback hurries this season.
The defense is taking its cue from Suggs this season, just like it did with Ray Lewis for so many years. Suggs is like a new player this year because he is coming off a season that was marred by an Achilles injury. He has a sack in every game this season and leads the NFL with six quarterback hits. In last Sunday's game at Buffalo, Suggs recorded 17 tackles. He looks like an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate again. Can the Dolphins hold off Suggs and Dumervil coming from the outside?
Walker: I expect the Dolphins to have a lot of trouble with Baltimore's edge rushers. Miami has allowed the most sacks (18) of any team in the NFL. The odd thing is it's not only the offensive line struggling; every facet of Miami's pass protection is shaky. The Dolphins don't have good blocking tight ends or running backs. Tannehill also has a tendency to hold the ball too long. Add in an average or below-average offensive line and you have major problems. Every week, Miami's players and coaches say they will fix the protection issues. But I haven't seen a game this season when it wasn't a problem. There is no reason to believe it won't be an issue again versus Baltimore.
Finally, Jamison, the Ravens are 0-2 on the road and appear to be a much different team away from M&T Bank Stadium. Can that change this week?
Hensley: The road struggles have been an unexpected development. In last season's playoffs, the Ravens went through Denver and New England to reach the Super Bowl. This season, the Ravens have looked bad in losing at Denver and Buffalo. Penalties (15 in two road games) and turnovers (Flacco has thrown a league-high seven interceptions away from home) have been Baltimore's biggest downfall, and those are signs of a team that lacks poise. What the Ravens have to avoid is another slow start. Baltimore hasn't scored in the first quarter for the past three games. The Ravens were able to overcome deficits at home, but they couldn't do it at Buffalo. A strong opening quarter is key to getting the Ravens back on track on the road. Plus, Ravens fans traditionally travel well in games in South Florida. So it could turn into a home game in Miami.