Last time the Miami Dolphins faced the Baltimore Ravens, they exorcised some demons against a franchise that has tormented them.
That, however, was in the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium — and done by surprising quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens with a blitz storm unlike anything they had previously seen.
In a Sunday 1 p.m. kickoff at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, as the Dolphins hit the road for the first time in the 2022 regular season for the Ravens’ home opener, Miami will have an opportunity to prove it can replicate last season’s stunning upset. But the Dolphins will have to do it on the road and with the element of surprise now gone from last year’s successful game plan.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel wasn’t with Miami for that win, which sprung the two teams in opposite directions for the final stretch of 2021. Nor was he with the Dolphins for the 59-10 loss to kick off the 2019 season. Or 40-0 blowout on a Thursday night in Baltimore in 2017. Or 38-6 loss in the same stadium the year before.
But as Sunday’s game begins a three-game gauntlet, with Buffalo at home and a trip to Cincinnati on a short week to follow, McDaniel fully understands the difficulties the Ravens present. It’s why he wasn’t in an overly celebratory mood over merely winning his first game as a head coach last Sunday, even if it came against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
“It’s as good of a challenge as you get in the National Football League,” said McDaniel, who noted he has picked up run-game concepts he uses from the Ravens. “You can’t take anything for granted, really, when you play a dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position like they have Lamar Jackson. So, it’s going to be a fun game, a challenging game, one that we’re going to have to leave no stone unturned in the entire process for us to come out the way we want to come out.”
In the 22-10 win over the Ravens last year, the Dolphins were unprecedentedly aggressive with the blitz. They sent a defensive back at Jackson on 24 of his 48 dropbacks, the most since NextGen Stats began tracking those figures in 2016.
It shook up Jackson then, but now it’s on Baltimore to make adjustments.
“I really think they’re preparing for what we did to them last year, so we’re going to have to switch it up,” said cornerback Xavien Howard.
Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer will weigh how much to keep pounding the Ravens with what they weren’t able to beat last time versus staying ahead of their expected counters.
“There’s a balance there, for sure,” Boyer said. “I don’t think you want to be predictable in anything you do. … But I think there’s a balance of giving them a little bit of an element of surprise and then really just trying to put your players in position to succeed.”
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will look to get the ball to his playmakers against a consistently stout Baltimore defense that goes into Sunday with a banged-up secondary. The Ravens already have Kyle Fuller on injured reserve and fellow cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Brandon Stephens enter Sunday questionable.
But Tagovailoa, who is coming off a 23-of-33 performance for 270 yards and a touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle, may have to get the ball out quickly. The Ravens pass rush will be attacking a hobbled Miami offensive line, specifically at tackle. Right tackle Austin Jackson landed on injured reserve on Friday with an ankle ailment. That sets him back at least four weeks as Greg Little likely steps in, all the while left tackle Terron Armstead is questionable with a toe injury.
The Dolphins look to build on the 20-7 win in the opener against the Patriots, but McDaniel won’t judge that based simply on the game outcome.
“If we’re on the journey that we want to be, that should be the worst game that we play all year,” McDaniel said of the Week 1 win, expressing a process-oriented view over one that is results-based.
“If your goals are more than to just win a few games here or there, you take that feeling that you have on Sunday and you put it to bed because the best teams are the ones that continually progress throughout the whole season.”