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Ravens-Dolphins Week 1: Three Key Matchups

September 6, 2019
WHO: Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium 
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 8, 1 p.m. EDT

The Ravens' so-called revolutionary offense led by Lamar Jackson and their rebuilt defense featuring five new starters will be unveiled Sept. 8 in Miami when the Ravens face the Dolphins in the 2019 season opener.

Much of the offseason discussion for the Ravens has focused on Jackson and his progression from Year One to Year Two. The defense, though, has lost its leadership core with the departure of Pro Bowl players Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, and Terrell Suggs, who played more games in a Ravens uniform (229) than anyone else in history.

As John Harbaugh begins his 12th season at the helm of the Ravens -- he's 8-3 in season openers as Ravens head coach -- here are three key matchups to watch:

Ravens C Matt Skura vs. Dolphins DL Davon Godchaux

With Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to his right and TBA to his left, Skura will anchor the interior of a Ravens offense that hopes to make the running game its focus. If the Ravens can get the lead, expect them to try to pound the ball and chew up the clock, which was their formula for success last year. 

Although the Ravens stressed their desire to get bigger and stronger up front, they didn't aggressively target the center position in the draft or free agency, so Skura (6-foot-3, 313 pounds) returns for his second straight season as the starting center. Interior line play will be vital to everything the Ravens want to do offensively.

Godchaux, a fifth-round pick out of LSU in 2017, finished with 48 tackles and one sack last year, and the 6-foot-3, 311-pounder is expected to man the interior of a revamped Dolphins defense that utilizes a 3-4 front. 

Ravens OLB Matthew Judon or Pernell McPhee vs. Dolphins LT Julie'n Davenport or Jesse Davis

Other than Lamar Jackson's progression, the Ravens pass rush has been one of the most widely discussed topics this offseason after the Ravens lost their leading pass rushers from last year to free agency in Za'Darius Smith (team-high 8.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (7 sacks last year, franchise record 132.5 in his career.)

Judon had seven sacks last season and is the Ravens' most accomplished returning edge rusher, while McPhee is back in Baltimore after a four-year absence and has drawn rave reviews. He had a career-best 7.5 sacks with the Ravens in 2014 before hitting free agency, but then injuries slowed him and he did not record a sack in 13 games with the Washington Redskins last season.

Davenport, a former fourth-round pick from Bucknell, joined the Dolphins just a week ago as part of the trade that sent left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans. Davenport (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) started 13 games at left tackle for the Texans last year.  

If Davenport isn't up to speed with his new team, the Dolphins could swing right tackle Davis over to cover quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Davis, a three-year veteran out of Idaho, started every game at right guard for Miami last season but is listed as the right tackle this year. 

Regardless, there is instability there that the Ravens will be hoping to exploit.

Ravens S Earl Thomas vs. Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

The three-time All-Pro pick with the Seattle Seahawks is ready to make his mark as one of the faces of the Ravens' revamped defense. Thomas ranks second among active safeties with 28 career interceptions -- he trails only Eric Weddle, who has 29 -- and says that generating turnovers was one of the reasons he was brought to Baltimore. 

From his vantage point at the back of the Ravens' defense, Thomas will try to out-guess Fitzpatrick and capitalize on any of his mistakes. Thomas has faced the veteran Fitzpatrick three times in the past and has an interception in each game, including a 57-yard touchdown return in 2012.

Fitzpatrick is "a swashbuckler," according to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who has had his share of spectacular games interspersed with some clunkers. He is 2-2 in his career against the Ravens, coming off the bench to beat them in 2016 while a member of the New York Jets. 

PREDICTION

The Ravens feel confident about the progress that Lamar Jackson and the offense has made this offseason, and their revamped defense will be a handful for Fitzpatrick and an undermanned Dolphins team going through an organizational overhaul. Unless Jackson's ball security issues resurface in disastrous ways, the Ravens should improve to 9-3 in season openers under John Harbaugh. Ravens 26, Dolphins 16. 

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox