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Ravens Insider: Ravens vs. Dolphins scouting report for Week 17: Who has the edge?


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The Ravens thumped the San Francisco 49ers on Christmas night, 33-19. The Dolphins outlasted the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve, 22-20. Who will have the advantage when the AFC’s top two teams meet on New Year’s Eve at M&T Bank Stadium?

Ravens passing game vs. Dolphins pass defense

Lamar Jackson started poorly against the 49ers but gradually cracked the code against one of the league’s best defenses, using his unmatched scrambling gift to conjure back-breaking plays out of thin air. Jackson’s passing statistics — 66.3% completions, 3,357 yards, 19 touchdowns — remain modest, but he made himself the Most Valuable Player favorite with his prime-time performance in San Francisco. Rookie Zay Flowers was his most frequent target, adding to his team-leading totals with nine catches for 72 yards. As quick as Flowers is, the Ravens use him as a possession target, and he’s often the man Jackson looks for in a tight spot with tight end Mark Andrews still recovering from an ankle injury. Flowers (calf) did not practice Wednesday. Andrews’ replacement, Isaiah Likely, has emerged as a big-play threat with 17 catches for 249 yards over his past four games. But the Ravens need to find more targets for wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman, who combined for just three catches and 27 yards against the 49ers.

Fears that Jackson’s pass protection would not hold up against San Francisco’s defensive front proved unfounded. Starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses are playing through injuries but combined to allow just three pressures, all of them hurries, per Pro Football Focus. The Ravens often used extra blockers to neutralize the 49ers’ All-Pro edge rusher Nick Bosa, and it will be interesting to see how often they do the same against Miami’s Bradley Chubb (11 sacks, 21 quarterback hits) and Andrew Van Ginkel (six sacks, 18 quarterback hits).

The Dolphins lost one of their top pass rushers, Jaelan Phillips, to a torn Achilles tendon, but like the 49ers, they press the pocket from inside as well as from the edges. Former Raven Zach Sieler and fellow defensive tackle Christian Wilkins have combined for 16 sacks and 39 quarterback hits. The Dolphins blitz on just 18.8% of dropbacks, relying on their talent up front to harass quarterbacks, who have averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt against them. They also have star power in the secondary, where cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard are former All-Pros, and safety Jevon Holland (who’s dealing with a knee injury but hopes to face the Ravens) is playing like one. Despite their impressive statistics, the Dolphins rank 12th in pass DVOA because they have played the league’s easiest schedule of offenses.

EDGE: Even

Dolphins passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

The Ravens will go from the frying pan to the fire, facing the league’s most productive passing offense a week after they dealt with the 49ers’ ultra-efficient attack. Tua Tagovailoa gets rid of the ball more quickly — an average of 2.37 seconds, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats — than any quarterback in the league, so defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will be hard-pressed to scheme up as much heat — 32 pressures on 53 dropbacks, per PFF — as he did against San Francisco. Like the 49ers’ Brock Purdy, Tagovailoa relies heavily on timing and anticipation, so the Ravens will need to make sharp reads as they did in picking off Purdy four times.

The Dolphins don’t have the variety of playmakers the 49ers do, but they have the best one in the league in wide receiver Tyreek Hill (106 catches, 1,641 yards, 12 touchdowns), who’s a nightmare to cover at all layers of the field. It’s unclear whether the Dolphins will have Hill’s running mate, Jaylen Waddle, who suffered a high-ankle injury against the Cowboys. Waddle (72 catches, 1,014 yards) isn’t as great a deep threat as Hill, but he’s a killer in the middle. They combined for 361 yards as the Dolphins stormed back from a 35-14 deficit to beat the Ravens in Baltimore last season. There aren’t a lot of targets left over for other pass catchers, but Tagovailoa makes good use of running backs Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane. He receives solid pass protection from a line led by left tackle Terron Armstead, though the Dolphins will miss right guard Robert Hunt if he can’t return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him against the Cowboys.

The Ravens will answer with the league’s best pass defense, coming off a four-sack, five-interception masterpiece against the 49ers. They allow just 4.5 yards per attempt and lead the league with 54 sacks and 26 takeaways. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (12 sacks, 61 pressures) and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (8 1/2 sacks, 66 pressures) are the top pass rushers. Cornerback Brandon Stephens will try to continue his breakout season against Hill and perhaps Waddle, while the Ravens will hope Marlon Humphrey, who played a season-high 23 snaps in the slot against the 49ers, continues rounding into form. Safety Kyle Hamilton (81 tackles, four interceptions, 13 passes defended) is the biggest difference-maker of all. He left the 49ers game with a knee injury and was listed as a non-participant on Wednesday’s injury report. His availability will be a huge X-factor against the high-octane Dolphins.

EDGE: Even

Ravens running game vs. Dolphins run defense

For everything that went right against the 49ers, the Ravens did miss Keaton Mitchell. Running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for just 57 yards on 19 carries, and the league’s top running attack just squeaked past the 100-yard mark, which the Ravens have exceeded in every game this season. Jackson is the man who makes it go, and he’s not only the team’s top rusher (786 yards, 5.5 per carry) but its top threat for chunk plays in Mitchell’s absence.

The Dolphins have held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry but rank just 21st in DVOA against the run because of the weak offenses they’ve faced. Linebacker David Long is their top playmaker in the middle, and Holland provides sturdy support from the secondary. Miami’s defensive line ranks 23rd in success rate against power runs and 26th in stuffing runs at the line of scrimmage, per DVOA creator Aaron Schatz, so the Ravens could grind on the Dolphins if they build an early lead.

EDGE: Ravens

Dolphins running game vs. Ravens run defense

Miami complements its prolific passing attack with one of the league’s most efficient running games. Mostert, who’s dealing with an ankle injury but is expected to play Sunday, averages 4.8 yards per carry and has been an elite finisher near the goal line with 18 rushing touchdowns. The speedy Achane, who’s playing through a toe injury, has averaged a remarkable 8.1 yards per carry, and the Ravens will need to leverage the lateral mobility of linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, with help from Hamilton, to keep him from getting outside.

The 49ers went away from the run after the Ravens built a big lead in the third quarter, but Christian McCaffrey still ran for 103 yards on 14 carries, reiterating the relative vulnerability of the Baltimore run defense. Travis Jones and Michael Pierce are powerful anchors on the interior. Smith and Queen rank among the most productive playmakers at their position. But Macdonald’s designs are so geared toward stopping the pass that opponents have averaged 4.4 yards per attempt on the ground.

EDGE: Dolphins

Ravens special teams vs. Dolphins special teams

Coach John Harbaugh felt his team delivered its best special teams performance of the season against the 49ers, and the effort bumped the Ravens to fourth in special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 31 of 36 field-goal attempts, with four of his misses coming from beyond 50 yards. Tylan Wallace has excelled stepping in for injured returner Devin Duvernay. The Ravens have shored up their punt coverage, a glaring early weakness.

The Dolphins rank 12th in special teams DVOA, with no outstanding strength or devastating weakness. Jason Sanders kicked brilliantly against the Cowboys, making all five of his field-goal attempts, with the first coming from 57, 52 and 54 yards. Sanders had made a less impressive 17 of 21 attempts going into that masterpiece. Braxton Berrios is a solid returner, averaging 10.2 yards on punts and 24.5 on kickoffs.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens intangibles vs. Dolphins intangibles

These are two teams with ample reasons to be confident going into a game that will likely determine the AFC’s top playoff seed. The Dolphins have won five straight and finally beat an elite opponent when they rallied against the Cowboys. Mike McDaniel is one of the top offensive minds in football and has built a scoring machine around Tagovailoa, who played one of the best games of his career in beating the Ravens last season. If there’s a wrench in the works, it’s Miami’s 4-3 road record, which includes double-digit losses to the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Ravens have the league’s best record after handling the NFC’s best team on Christmas. They can clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye if they beat the Dolphins. If they lose, even their lead over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North might not be safe. Harbaugh has praised his team’s resourcefulness and maturity in finding a variety of ways to win nine of the past 10. The players believe that in Jackson, who’s 57-19 in his regular-season career, they always have the most impactful man on the field.

EDGE: Ravens

Prediction

If Ravens-49ers was the game of the year, this one is even more important. The Ravens will need takeaways to counter unavoidable chunk gains from Miami’s playmakers. The Dolphins won’t have an answer for Jackson, but if they can go up early, they might prevent the Ravens from pounding on them in the second half. Advantage goes to the home team as these heavyweights match strengths. Ravens 31, Dolphins 27

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