For the first time in 12 games this season the Baltimore Ravens fired on all cylinders for 60 minutes of a football game. The Ravens defeated the Miami Dolphins 38-6, and ended their winning streak at six games. The offense finally matched up with its No. 1 ranked defensive counterparts and played their best game of the season.
This is the team the Front Office envisioned this offseason after spending more money than usual on free-agent additions, as well as drafting 11 players. It may have taken until the 12th game to unleash Baltimore’s potential, but the team is not complaining. Great teams are made in December/January, not September/October.
Baltimore routed the AFC’s hottest team just two weeks after falling to the NFC’s hottest squad in Dallas. With the win, they are inching themselves into Wild Card contention, which is only important if they can’t claim the AFC North at the end of the season. The team now owns the tie-breaker over Miami, and has a 7-2 record against the AFC.
Yesterday’s game could propel Baltimore into post-season mode, where they have proven to play their best. Here are my thoughts about the victory.
What I Liked
- Joe Flacco. For once, the entire team played well for a whole game, not just the offense, and not just the defense. The man that made it all happen was the Face of the Franchise. Flacco played by far his best game this year, and his best game since the 2014 playoffs against Pittsburgh and New England. Flacco did it all in this game. He completed a franchise-record 36 passes, and threw a season high 381 yards and 4 touchdowns. If not for a dropped pass by rookie Chris Moore, Flacco would have completed passes to 11 different targets, a would-be season high. Baltimore has been waiting for Flacco’s break out game and it finally happened. Flacco brought out his greatest performance during a statement win for the entire team.
- Entire Team Effort. There wasn’t one weakness Miami could exploit yesterday for the Ravens. Flacco used his entire offensive depth chart and spread the ball out so well that Miami’s defense had no answers all day. The defense bullied Ryan Tannehill and his offense throughout the contest. Without a gift-wrapped turnover by Dennis Pitta, the defense may have shut them out entirely. Jay Ajayi was held to a mere 87 yards on 18 touches, forcing Tannehill to try to beat the Ravens with his arm (something I predicted he would not be able to do). Tannehill played from behind the entire game and ended up throwing 3 interceptions. Lastly, what would a Ravens victory be these days without a 55-yard Justin Tucker field goal?
- Dennis Pitta. Pitta had the breakout game he has been waiting for, and deserved to have, since the 2012 season. The tight end has had a quietly productive season, but had been held out of the endzone until yesterday. Pitta broke out to the tune of 9 catches for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns. He found success against Miami’s defense because Flacco drove the ball into the red zone often, where the Pitta is the most dangerous. The red zone has been a problem for Baltimore this year, but they seemed to have found their groove against Miami.
- Offensive Line. The line has finally found stability and healthy players. Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, and Ricky Wagner have all battled injuries this season but are now healthy. Yanda has moved to Left Guard because of Alex Lewis’ ankle sprain, which in turn allows Vladimir Ducasse to start at Right Guard. The starting five have opened lanes in the run game for three straight weeks, and were near perfect in pass protection yesterday. Miami recorded 0 sacks and had no answers to Flacco’s quick strike passing game. This stability on the line has boosted Flacco’s confidence and will allow his offense to continue being explosive going forward.
- Playmaking Secondary. Lardarius Webb recorded his 1st interception as a full-time safety with a top-five catch, and Eric Weddle picked off his 1st pass from someone not named Josh McCown. Both safeties are in their first year in Baltimore for that position, and have changed the secondary for the better. Along with the safety play increasing, the corners (when healthy) are playing great as well. Jimmy Smith is a difference maker for this defense, allowing Tavon Young to cover the slot more often. Young has steadily made open field, one-on-one tackles throughout the entire year and they are exciting to watch. This remade secondary is night/day when compared to the 2015 version of the unit.
- Zachary Orr. When thinking of Baltimore’s 2016 defense a few names come to mind. Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, Jimmy Smith, and Eric Weddle all come to mind before Orr does. Orr has started every game this season at Inside Linebacker, and took over Mosley’s spot when he went down with injury. Orr now has over 100 tackles after another double-digit tackle performance against Miami. He leads the Ravens with 112 tackles, which is good for 4th in the NFL. He has brought speed/quickness to Baltimore’s front seven after taking over for Daryl Smith in his first year as a starter. Orr is a key cog in a defense that has gelled all season long.
What I Didn’t Like
- For the first, and possibly only, time this season, I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like from the Ravens’ performance. I tried, but couldn’t justify putting anything down. Yes, the Ravens turned the ball over twice, but neither were back-breaking plays, and every team turns the ball over. Also, the Ravens did have 7 penalties for 68 yards, but played more disciplined, clean football than much of the year.
- The Ravens must prove that this game, like some of their losses this season, was not an anomaly. The team must stay aggressive, play fast/efficient, and keep dominating on defense. Yes, Flacco has had Miami’s number throughout his career (6-0 record), but this Miami team was hot. Winning six games in a row is no small feat, and Tannehill is having a fine season. Ending a team’s winning streak is no small feat, either. The Ravens made a statement in this game. If they continue to play like this, they can beat any team, anywhere.
Week Fourteen Preview
- Baltimore travels to New England next Monday for a Prime-Time matchup against one of the best teams in football. The Patriots are forced to live life without their top offensive weapon in Rob Gronkowski, and are fighting to keep up with the Oakland Raiders for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens know they can win this game, and they will not be afraid of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Baltimore will look to stay hot as it travels to New England in mid-December.