Ravens Three-and-Out: Week 13 vs Miami Dolphins
For only the second time this season, the Baltimore Ravens were able to completely dominate the opposing team. From start to finish, they imposed their will on a red-hot Miami Dolphins team that had won six straight. Joe Flacco completed a franchise-record 36 completions in 47 attempts and he also had a season-high four touchdowns, capping off one of the best performances by the Ravens' passing game in a long time.
The defense also held up their end of the bargain. Ryan Tannehill was picked off three times and the defense nearly shut out the Dolphins, allowing just one touchdown and that came after the Dolphins were gifted a short field on a Dennis Pitta fumble. And even after that touchdown, the Ravens responded on the very next drive with a 53-receiving touchdown by Breshad Perriman, which was easily their longest scoring play of the day.
The Ravens totaled 496 yards of offense and had their highest scoring game of 2016. This win was a huge one for the team, as not only did they stop the team with the longest winning streak in the AFC, but they also retain first place in the AFC North and win one of the most difficult games remaining on their schedule. With both the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers on the schedule in December, the Ravens can ill afford to drop any games they are favored in.
On a day where the entire team played so well, here are some of the more noteworthy highlights.
1. Dennis Pitta scores for first time since 2013, as Ravens burn Dolphins with downfield passing.
Despite leading the Ravens in receptions, Pitta hadn't scored a touchdown through 11 games of the 2016 season. His latest hip injury caused him to only play in three games in 2014 and also to miss the entirety of 2015. So to see the last time Pitta caught a meaningful touchdown, you have to go back to December 8, 2013 where he caught what would end up being his only touchdown that season.
Pita made sure that the ending of his nearly three year long touchdown drought was worth the wait. He scored twice, on a 13-yard reception in the first quarter and a nine-yard reception in the second quarter. Finally, Pitta looked like the redzone threat that the Ravens had been hoping to see this season.
In addition to his two touchdowns, Pitta led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 90. Perriman, Mike Wallace and Steve Smith Sr. all topped 50 receiving yards on a day where Flacco spread the ball out to 10 different receivers. A lot of the Ravens' damage in the passing game came from targeting deep passes in the center of the field. Evidently, Flacco had lobbied offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg to be more aggressive in calling the passing game and for one week at least, that strategy worked.
2. The Ravens are now the healthiest they have been all season.
For Week 13's injury report, the Ravens got a huge break when Jimmy Smith returned from his three game absence caused by his back injury. Smith's return left rookie guard Alex Lewis as the only Ravens' starter to not play in Week 13. They entered the game healthy and left the game relatively healthy too. Tavon Young had to leave the game briefly for a shoulder stinger, but he was able to return later.
Having a healthy team in December is vital for a team to have success. After consecutive seasons where the Ravens had 20+ players on injured reserve, the Ravens have experienced a reversal in injury fortunes. They have had several defenders miss multiple games, like Elvis Dumervil and Smith. But they have avoided season-ending injuries and that now helps them to have a roster almost at full strength as they enter the season's stretch run.
3. For once, Ravens aren't hurt by having an uneven run-pass balance.
The Dolphins entered Week 13 ranked 30th in rushing yards per game at 132.2. So it seemed like it would be very beneficial for the Ravens to attack the Dolphins' weak run defense by pounding the ball down their throats with the tandem of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. But like so many other times this year, the Ravens' run game never really got going. And yet, they still got a blowout win of 32 points, the third-largest margin of victory under John Harbaugh.
The Ravens totaled 110 yards on 20 rushing attempts. That may seem like a disappointment, but with the way Flacco was having success throwing the ball, the run game actually wasn't needed too much. A lot of the credit for the great passing day has to go to the offensive line, which didn't allow Flacco to get sacked once. This despite going against a defensive line with vaunted pass rushers like Cameron Wake and Mario Williams.
And even with the low rushing totals, West made his presence known. He had 10 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes for 18 yards and a touchdown. Him and Dixon should continue to be impactful parts of the Ravens' offense, especially if the offensive line can continue to play as well as they did yesterday.
By dominating the Dolphins, the Ravens are able to send a message to the rest of the NFL that they can be a dangerous team going into the playoffs. It is rare in today's NFL to see total blowouts like this, especially between two teams that are viable playoff contenders. Like usual, the Ravens defense played a great game. They allowed only six points, got three interceptions and sacked Tannehill two times.
The crucial difference in this game was seeing an offense that actually put up a lot of points. It's something they will need to continue to do with the Patriots next up on deck. This crucial Monday Night Football matchup will be an excellent litmus test to see if the Ravens can capitalize on the Rob Gronkowski injury and go toe-to-toe with one of the top AFC contenders. With the Steelers also winning today, this game may also be a must-win if the Ravens are to remain in first in the AFC North.
James Reagan writes for the Baltimore Ravens and can be followed on Twitter @james__reagan.