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'Thursday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Ravens-Dolphins

Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 6-2-0
Miami Dolphins
2021 · 2-7-0

8:20 ET (NFL Network, FOX, Amazon) | Hard Rock Stadium

A good reminder for the Ravens not to be complacent here came just four days ago when the Jaguars stunned the Bills. Baltimore leads an ultra-tight AFC North, one of two AFC divisions that boast winning records from top to bottom. There’s no such thing as a must-win for a 6-2 team, but imagine how large a loss to Miami would loom if Baltimore finds itself battling for a wild-card berth down the stretch. Playing on a short week should help hold the Ravens’ attention. The Dolphins snapped a seven-game losing streak last week, but hold the applause -- it merely extended an eight-game skid for the Houston Texans. For Miami, the season has digressed to the play-for-pride stage, with a build toward 2022; only once since 1990 has a 2-7 team reached the playoffs.

Here are four things to watch Thursday night when the Dolphins play host to the Ravens:

  1. Humphrey-Waddle matchup one to watch. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey versus Dolphins rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle will be an interesting battle, and one that likely favors Humphrey. He’s a big, physical corner who excels in bump-and-run coverage and would figure to have an easy time disrupting the routes of the diminutive Waddle. And based on the Dolphins’ use of Waddle this season, why not press? Per his Next Gen Stats route chart, Waddle has caught as many passes behind the line of scrimmage (10) as he has for 10-plus air yards. As a result, he’s averaged just 8.9 yards per catch. Press away, Marlon.
  2. Ravens' pass rush not getting home. The Dolphins’ beleaguered pass protection could get a much-needed chance to regroup. The Ravens' pass rush is generating a sack on just 5.08% of pass attempts, which ranks 28th in the NFL, and its 55 hurries on the season carry a middling ranking of 15th. For a defense that blitzes heavily, that’s not much bang for the buck. With rookie Odafe Oweh leading the team with just three sacks, there’s also not a dominant rusher who would command frequent double-teaming. Consistently clean pockets shouldn’t be expected from Miami’s line against any defense, but this week, it has a chance to hold its own.
  3. Can Miami contain Lamar Jackson’s rushing impact? The Baltimore Ravens quarterback has posted two of his best rushing performances of the season in back-to-back weeks, hurting the Bengals and Vikings for a combined 33-for-208 on the ground. Once again, he’s by far the NFL’s biggest X-factor when it comes to quarterbacks who can tuck and run -- his average of 75 rushing yards per game is 20 more than Jalen Hurts, who ranks second among QBs, and nearly twice that of Josh Allen, who ranks third. All this bodes poorly for a Dolphins defense that allows third-down conversions at an AFC-worst rate of 48.8%.
  4. Top tight ends on display. If the aforementioned Dolphins pass protection can limit the leaks, expect a fine showcase of tight ends. Baltimore’s Mark Andrews and Miami’s Mike Gesicki are two of only four tight ends who rank in the NFL’s top 30 in receiving yards. Jackson’s distribution of targets this season makes it clear that after Marquise Brown, Andrews is his second-favorite option by a wide margin. He’s a big, strong target at 6-5, 260 pounds who can punish tacklers after the catch. Gesicki, the leaner and more athletic of the two, has posted a 10-catch game against the Raiders, a 115-yard game against the Jaguars, and came up with this spectacular grab against the Texans last week.

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