NFL Preview - Baltimore (2-2) at Miami (3-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Baltimore Ravens feel fortunate to be where they are in the AFC North standings given their performance on the road this season.
The Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco look to bounce back this Sunday afternoon when they visit the 3-1 Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium.
Baltimore began defense of its Super Bowl championship with a 49-27 loss at Denver in Week 1 before returning home to beat Cleveland and Houston. The Ravens look to have made a statement by besting the Texans 30-9, but followed up with a 23-20 road loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Joe Flacco threw for 347 yards with two touchdown passes, but was picked off a career-high and franchise-record five times. Two of those picks went off the hands of Baltimore receivers.
Twice Baltimore got into the red zone only to come away with Justin Tucker field goals.
"We're definitely going to get better," Flacco said. "We have to get better. A lot of that falls on me."
Trailing 20-7 at the half, the Ravens ran the ball just twice in the second half to 28 pass attempts.
After missing the previous game with a hip flexor strain, Ray Rice was held to just 17 yards on five carries, while Bernard Pierce had seven yards on four attempts.
Baltimore has been outscored 72-47 in its two road losses, but is tied with fellow 2-2 clubs Cincinnati and Cleveland for first place in the AFC North. Pittsburgh is 0-4, but only two games back.
"It's a consolation, no doubt," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of still being tied for first place. "It's week-to-week in the National Football League. Here we sit; we're tied for the lead in our division, with a tiebreaker on Cleveland. ... Whoever wins the division games is going to win the division. But, we can do our cause a whole lot of good by going down to Miami and playing our best and winning the football game. That's going to be our objective."
The objective for Miami will be to rebound from its first loss of the season, a 38-17 setback to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times and turned the ball over four times on three interceptions and a loss fumble. On the other hand, Drew Brees threw for 413 yards with four TD passes for the Saints.
"We're not happy. Obviously you don't want to come out and perform like that," Tannehill said. "But you look at it and there are things you can correct."
Wideout Brandon Gibson caught six passes for 71 yards and tight end Charles Clay added six passes for 42 yards and a touchdown in the setback.
"We will find out a lot about the team we have here by the way we come back tomorrow," said Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said after the game.
Though the Dolphins lead the regular season series 5-3, the Ravens have won both postseason matchups and have taken the last three meetings, including the postseason.
The Ravens are 1-4 in Miami during the regular season, but both of their postseason victories over the Dolphins came on the road.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Pressure on the quarterback has been an issue for both the Dolphins and Ravens. Tannehill has been sacked a league-leading 18 times, while Flacco has been brought down 12 times.
Flacco was sacked four times in addition to his five picks versus the Bills and the Ravens made a rare in-season trade this week to get left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monroe was taken eighth overall by the Jags in the 2009 draft and had started 62 of Jacksonville's 68 games since entering the league. The 26-year-old is in the final season of his rookie contract and could replace Bryant McKinnie in Baltimore's starting lineup as soon as this weekend.
"Obviously, we're bringing Eugene in to play. How soon that can happen remains to be seen. The main thing is it makes us better. It makes us better almost immediately in terms of adding a football player of that quality to our team," said Harbaugh.
Philbin, meanwhile, is putting the struggles of keeping Tannehill upright on the whole offense.
"It's a unit-wide issue, without a question. Every position has been impacted," the Dolphins head coach said. "There are times where the offensive line has gotten beat. There's been times where the quarterback has held the ball too long or hasn't moved swiftly enough in the pocket. There's been times that our running back has missed a pickup. There's been times where the tight ends have missed a pickup. It's been widespread. It hasn't been one particular individual."
Miami got a five-yard touchdown run from running back Lamar Miller and 115 total rushing yards versus the Saints, including 48 from Tannehill. The Dolphins could put further emphasis on the ground game given the Ravens allowed the Bills to rush for 203 yards on 55 attempts last weekend.
Baltimore did the opposite with its ground game and ranks 28th in the NFL in rushing (64.0 YPG) and total offense (317.5 YPG).
"We're not running the ball well. We've got to run the ball better," said Harbaugh. "You saw the difference in the first half with (Buffalo). They're running the ball for four, five yards at time and putting themselves in manageable third downs, and we're not doing that. That's tough on everybody. That's tough on our passing game, on our quarterback. We've got to get to the point where we can execute in the running game."
Looking to prevent Rice and Pierce from getting things going this weekend will be Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who faces his former Ravens club for the first time.
Ellerbe was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens out of Georgia and played four seasons with the club from 2009-12. He had nearly 200 tackles over that time as well as 5 1/2 sacks. He had 92 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in 13 games with the Ravens last year while helping them win the Super Bowl.
"It looks like he's a leader for them, first of all," Harbaugh said of Ellerbe. "He's done a great job. On the field, you can see he takes charge, he calls the signals, and he's a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, just like he always has been. If there's a screen out there, Dannell sniffs it out, it seems like. He's just the same great player he was here."
The Dolphins also hope that Ellerbe can give them some advice on how to stop Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has a sack in each of his first four games this season for the first time since his 2003 rookie season.
Suggs will be looking to match Adalius Thomas (2005, 2006) and Paul Kruger's (2012) franchise record of five straight games with at least a half-sack.
While the Ravens need to get the ground game going, they did see wide receiver Jacoby Jones return to practice this week. He has not played since Week 1 due to a knee injury.
Wideout Brandon Stokley missed the Bills game because of a groin issue and Torrey Smith stepped up with game highs of five catches and 166 yards with a touchdown. He ranks third in the NFL with 435 receiving yards and is second in yards per catch at 20.7.
The Dolphins are hoping they will not be without star defensive end Cameron Wake for a second week in a row. He did practice on Wednesday after sitting out Monday night's game with a sprained knee. Wake was held without a sack in back-to-back games after getting 2 1/2 in the Week 1 win over Cleveland and Derrick Shelby started in his place versus the Saints.
Bouncing back is again the theme for the Ravens this weekend and though they were able to do it in Week 2, putting up just 14 points on Cleveland could hardly be viewed as a success.
Flacco got big money this offseason after leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl title and could start to see some added weight on his shoulders with another loss this weekend, so rebounding is a must.
"It's something that you have to do. It's definitely not easy to throw five interceptions and just be cool with it. It was the main reason why we didn't win that football game. You have to live with it and move on," said Flacco.
Rice will be another week removed from his injury and the Ravens should look to nullify the Dolphins pass rush by using Rice in the ground game and on dumpoffs.
The Dolphins surprised more than a few with their 3-0 start, but fell under the bright lights of "Monday Night Football." They should struggle to keep pace again this Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 23, Dolphins 16
10/03 14:34:02 ET