Ravens Put Run Game Shoe On Dolphins' FootPosted on October 08, 2013 by Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- If you are going to run the ball well, you need to have a sturdy pair of shoes.
But if those shoes are on the wrong feet, the whole venture might be uncomfortable. And if the situation isn't corrected -- and it could be, easily -- then a team has no one to blame but itself.
The Ravens learned that lesson in Buffalo, when they set a franchise-record low by running the ball nine times, literally throwing themselves out of whack and losing, 23-20.
The shoe was on the other foot during Week Five against Miami, where the Dolphins ran the ball 11 times -- tying a single-game Ravens opponent low Pittsburgh had set in 2006 -- and gained 22 yards (fourth lowest by a Baltimore foe) during a loss that was by the same three-point margin the Ravens had incurred seven days earlier.
Just as the Ravens had given up on the run and attempted to pass on 31 consecutive plays against the Bills, Miami's Ryan Tannehill dropped back on 32 of 33 plays against Baltimore. Both teams ran the ball only twice during the second halves of those games.
There are a couple of differences.
Despite all that throwing, the Dolphins did manage a 10-point rally, thanks in part to Reshad Jones' interception runback touchdown. Not only that, a desperation fourth-and-10 pass to Brandon Gibson at least got Miami in position for a game-tying field goal, an opportunity the Ravens hadn't had in Buffalo.
But Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin -- whom Ravens counterpart John Harbaugh complimented after the game -- didn't seem as quick to criticize his own team, being content to tip his cap to the visitors.
"They had a couple of good calls," Philbin said. "They came off the slot once or twice and had some run pressures that made it a little bit challenging to run the football on occasion. They have some big guys who are some good run defense. We certainly have to block better, break some tackles.
"We knew we might be throwing the ball a little bit more because of the style of play and the defensive calls they were utilizing. We probably wouldn't have had to same type of balance we had in the first half a week ago."
When the Ravens played the Bills, not only could their own run game not get going behind a spotty offensive line and because of injuries to both Ray Rice (hip) and Bernard Pierce (thigh), but they were gashed themselves by Buffalo's ground game, which didn't give the Ravens much of a chance to get the ball back and respond.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees chalked that up to a lack of success stopping first-down running plays.
"That's where we got in trouble," Pees said. "It's hard when it's second down-and-four and second down-and-three. All of a sudden, now you've got to really try to tighten it down to get to third. And even if you get them to third, it's third-and-two or third-and-three, and now it's really hard to defend third-and-two and third-and-three.
"We've just got to do a better job playing-wise, coaching-wise, the whole scheme-wise, of doing a better job on first down, especially first-down run. If I remember looking back at it, because I looked at it this week, almost 150 yards came on first down last week."
Pees wasn't far off.
During the first half alone, Buffalo ran the ball 13 times on first down against the Ravens and gained 85 yards. The Ravens didn't slow them down much during the final two quarters, allowing nine first-down runs for 28 yards, not including end-of-game kneeldowns.
Things turned out better in Miami, where seven of the Dolphins' 11 running plays came on first down. Even though the home team was fully cognizant of the Ravens' troubles in Buffalo, those seven runs gained only 31 yards.
And even when Miami had first-down success, Tannehill wasn't up to the challenge of converting on later downs, getting sacked six times and pacing an offense that possessed the ball for 23 minutes, 44 seconds.
"I thought our defense played dominant football," Harbaugh said. "Our defense believes that they should be a dominant defense. We got to get better every week, though. There's still plenty of things to work on."
One thing that probably doesn't need much tweaking is the pass rush.
The Ravens now have 19 sacks, a team record for the season's first five games. The six they got in Miami came as a direct result of the Dolphins' inability to run and Tannehill's inability to move all that well.
"I didn't see anything [on film during preparation]," said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had three fourth-quarter sacks Oct. 6 and has seven this season. "It comes down to the fact that I always say, this is the NFL and if a team struggles in one area, you need to adjust and adapt during the week.
"This is a very tough Miami Dolphins team, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see them again. We just made enough plays to win the game."
Enough to make the Ravens' shoes feel more comfortable on the flight home.