Defensive Game Plan
1.) Defending the pass: Miami's offense has performed miserably all season long, but despite those struggles, the Dolphins do have the potential to produce explosive plays in the passing game. Receivers Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael are proven threats, while Marty Booker and Derrius Thompson are solid possession receivers underneath. If Sage Rosenfels is provided with any semblance of pass protection, he has the chance to hurt the Ravens' secondary.
To defend Miami's passing game, the Ravens should play zone coverage, and stay in a predominant Nickel look on second and third down. The Ravens should be able to defend Miami's rush attack despite being in a softer defensive front, as Miami's offensive line has struggled to open up rush lanes all season long.
2.) Bringing the heat from the outside: Protecting the quarterback has been an issue for Miami all season long.
Specifically, defenses have had a lot of success getting to any of Miami's various starting quarterbacks off the outside. Left tackle Wade Smith has been a targeted player in every Dolphins game this season.
Conversely, where the Ravens have had the most success attacking quarterbacks is off the edges. Outside backers Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs have been able to bring the heat off the corners consistently, and if they didn't get the job done, other blitzers like Ed Reed and Gary Baxter have also come from nowhere to get their hats underneath the quarterback's chin.
Look for Mike Nolan to use some clever blitz packages to expose the Dolphins' glaring holes up front.
Offensive Game Plan
1.) Getting a hat on Zach Thomas: The key cog in Miami's defense has always been perennial All-Pro Zach Thomas. Thomas has always been knocked for lacking ideal size, but he is a throwback player that has great anticipation and diagnostic skills. In addition, Thomas' ability to drop into zone coverage allows the Dolphins to stay in their base defense.
The key to negating Thomas' effectiveness is to run the ball right at him. Without stout defensive tackles Tim Bowens and Larry Chester to protect him, Thomas has had to take on more blocks, and despite being able to win most of those battles, if a lineman can get to Thomas cleanly and take him out of a play. The Ravens' line must be able to free up an interior lineman (either Mike Flynn or Casey Rabach) to chip at Thomas on all running plays.
If Thomas is consistently hit, he will eventually wear down, and his play may suffer as a result.
2.) Attacking through the spread: The Dolphins rarely come out of their base, 4-3 defensive front. The defensive coaches depend on the front four to get after the quarterback, allowing the linebackers to help in coverage, and the safeties to stay in deep support.
As such, Miami forces teams to drive the field against its two-deep zone coverage shell.
The best way to attack a defensive front like the one that Miami shows is to spread the field, forcing the linebackers to widen their stances, and run the ball up the middle. With Todd Heap being out of the lineup, the Ravens can tinker with a three-wide, two-back look instead of a one-back alignment.
Using this formation would allow the Ravens to keep Alan Ricard on the field, and with either Randy Hymes or Kevin Johnson operating out of the slot, they have a viable receiving threat to challenge Miami's linebackers in man-to-man coverage situations.
3.) Gaining yards on first and second down: It will be key for the offense to gain around six to seven yards combined on first and second down to setup manageable third-down conversion situations. Lately, the Ravens have been too predictable on first and second down, opting to run the ball on both downs. If the running game is stopped, Kyle Boller is forced into completing a pass over six or seven yards consistently on third-down.
Getting out of those third-and-longs is important against Miami's defense, because the Dolphins can get after the quarterback successfully without using the blitz.
One-on-one Match-up to Watch:
Jason Taylor versus Jonathan Ogden: Since the Dolphins and the Ravens practically face each other every season, this has become a great rivalry within the overall rivalry. Both All-Pro performers have drawn enough blood from each other over the years. Overall, Ogden has had his issues keeping Jason Taylor at bay. Taylor is a relentless player that possesses deceiving strength, and has a long extension.
Ogden must do a great job of getting into his stance quickly, or he'll have a tough time blocking Taylor.
Dev Panchwagh is a writer for Ravens Insider, the biggest and best independently run Ravens site on the web. If you are reading this from a news portal you will find the original at www.ravensinsider.com