A Different Game

There don't seem to be a lot of analysts nationwide giving the Dolphins much of a chance to beat Baltimore in Sunday's wild-card playoff game, and one reason is the Ravens' 27-13 victory when the teams met in Miami in October. But using the game as a gauge would be a big mistake.

The loss dropped the Dolphins' record to 2-4 at the time, and they went 9-1 after that. So clearly this is a much better Dolphins team that Baltimore will be facing on Sunday.

But here's the biggest difference in this game: Back on Oct. 19, the Dolphins found themselves without a nose tackle in the first quarter after starter Jason Ferguson left the game with an injury. That was because backup Paul Soliai had been suspended for the game for violating a team rule.

Randy Starks, signed in the offseason after playing defensive tackle in Tennessee's 4-3 defense, was inserted in Ferguson's spot and his play drew some compliments from Coach Tony Sparano.

But Starks isn't a nose tackle and he was used in that spot because there's nobody else on the roster who really has the physical dimension required to play the position.

It's probably not a coincidence that the Ravens had a lot of success running the ball against the Dolphins that day, and that success made things much easier for rookie quarterback Joe Flacco in the passing game.

With the ground game working, Flacco wasn't put in many obvious passing situations where the Dolphins could throw different looks or different blitzes at him.

Linebacker Channing Crowder on Wednesday called the nose tackle the "unung hero" of the 3-4 defense, and he's right. He's the guy who does all the dirty work, takes on two blockers and tries to free up everybody else to make plays.

Teams without a good nose tackle either don't run a 3-4 defense or don't run it well.

Don't believe me: Look at the top run-stopping 3-4 defenses. Baltimore has Haloti Ngata at nose tackle; Pittsburgh has Casey Hampton; the Jets have Kris Jenkins. Case closed.

Ferguson might not be quite in that league, but he's a very good nose tackle and his presence will make a big difference in this game.

The Ravens rushed for 139 yards in the October game, and one would guess they won't reach that number in the rematch. If they do, the Dolphins will be in trouble.

But keep in mind that the Dolphins are coming off a game where they totally shut down Thomas Jones, who is better than any running back the Ravens have.

Yes, the week before, Larry Johnson and the Chiefs had a field day against Miami, but Crowder was out of the lineup because of a minor knee injury and the entire defense had a bad day.

The Dolphins couldn't run the ball against Baltimore in that game, and there's no guarantee things will be any better on Sunday. But it would be a shock to see Baltimore score 27 points again.

We're not saying the Dolphins necessarily will win the game, we're just saying that using the regular season meeting between the teams as a barometer doesn't make sense.


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