Welcome to the next instalment of our 2021 series, Behind Enemy Lines: Baltimore Ravens Edition.
I’ve been talking to fans from all the teams we’ve faced over this season, and this week I get to do it from a position I have experienced too few times, AFTER A WIN!!! The result against the Texans masked a lot of errors in the expected places, but finally our defence seemed to have that ruthless streak which made us so strong last year. Whilst offense continues to falter, if our defence can get that aggressive streak back, it should give us moments to cheer for the rest of the season despite the bleak first half of the year.
That said, this week it’s the Ravens… and my word do we not do well against the Ravens. Especially on Thursday Night Football. The last three games against them, the combined score sits at Ravens 137 – 16 Dolphins, and with them sat 6-2 on the season, with us 2-7, expectations are not very high at all. Throw in the continued absence of key Wide Receivers, OLine struggles and Tua Tagovailoa’s continued injury issues and it all leads to pessimism. However… On any given Sunday…
And so I sat with Tom Strachan (@bestballuknfl) to get the Ravens fanbase’s perspective on our match up to see if there is anything we are missing that could give us greater cause for optimism…
Afternoon Tom! Thank you so much for joining me pal, appreciate this, especially with the short turn around this week, we really have flown in and out of this. Very greatful. But let’s get started and start creating some content, and let’s start with introductions. Let us know who you are and how you ended up following the Ravens…
No worries mate, thanks for getting in touch. So, I’m Tom, a Newcastle based Ravens fan and fantasy football obsessive. Whilst playing football (the round ball type) at University, friends on the team got me interested in the NFL. Back then I struggled with the rules, didn’t feel a pull to any particular team and had a fleeting interest until in 2008 I became obsessed with Ravens safety, Ed Reed. Watching him play defence with such an attacking mindset completely encapsulated everything I wanted from a player. Combine that with the likes of Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis and I knew I had found my team. Through the good and bad, there’s been no looking back. I’m just glad I didn’t choose the Jets after a rather attractive girl once tried to convince me that was the way. You can find me on Twitter @BestballUkNFL, and I currently write for my own site nflbestball.co.uk about all things best ball, fantasy football and anything else that comes to mind, along with my weekly DFS columns for both my site and nfl-dfs.com.
What a team that was, some great names to attach yourself to and completely understandable. It would have been a whole different conversation if we were talking about the Jets! Haha! I’m sorry, but no-one is THAT attractive to sway someone to being a Jets fan, surely?!? My story is similar, although was family that got me into it and I attached myself to Ricky Williams, the first player I ever pretended to be in the back garden. So I get it.
But from the past to the present, you currently sit 6-2, you have GOT to be pleased with this? Top of the division, looking dangerous, is it as positive inside the fanbase as it appears from the outside?
This season has been a complete rollercoaster. Season-ending injuries to J.k Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Ronnie Stanley and Marcus Peters have been devastating to our identity, yet somehow the team have evolved and found a way to win games. Every game has been crazy in its own right. Week 1, Overtime loss to the Raiders. Week 2, finally beat the Chiefs and recover from a deficit along the way. Week 3, Justin Tucker breaks the NFL record with a 66-yard field goal to win the game. Week 4, the no-kneel down craziness in the last seconds. Week 5, Overtime win against the Colts after being down big. Week 6, destroy the Chargers. Week 7, destroyed by the Bengals. Week 9, Overtime win against the Vikings. My heart rate is definitely taking a rough ride this year but it’s been electric and the team finds a way no matter its deficiencies and there are deficiencies. The defence has routinely struggled and the running game is patchy at best.
Mate, sorry, but whilst I’m listening to that I feel like you should know your audience better haha! Deficiencies? Underperforming Defence? Terrible run game? These are all things we Dolphins fans live with in the extreme, we’d take all of those from you gladly right now haha. Not only do I feel your pain, but we wallow in it without even having the wins at the end to bring some excitement. Tough stuff being a Dolphins fan right now. But we’ll get to that.
Who have been the main contributors this year? Obviously, Jackson is the main man down there now and what a pick up he has turned out to be. I personally drafted Hollywood Brown in fantasy this year, and knowing you’re a big fantasy nut you can understand my delight in him this year. But who else is bringing things to the party? Any new or key additions who are making a difference?
Lamar Jackson is playing as good as any quarterback in the league right now and finally starting to pick up some deserved MVP talk. His passing has hit new heights as a result of an offseason spent working on his mechanics as well as another year of experience under his belt. Something Lamar doesn’t get much credit for is his footballing intelligence. Whenever you hear Lamar talk about a play it’s obvious just how clever he is. Alongside Lamar’s jump to new height’s has been another Floridian, and your fantasy man, Marquise Brown. Brown came into the league with an injured foot and missed most of his first offseason. His second offseason was disrupted by Covid-19, so this year feels like the first time he’s been able to hit the season all guns blazing and it definitely shows. His ball tracking, route running and willingness to pick up yards after the catch have all taken a leap. More under the radar than the previous two is Bradley Bozeman whose move from guard to centre has been a calming presence, whilst also adding a higher quality of snaps and play in general.
You don’t understand the pain you are causing me through sheer jealousy. Your QB is living up to expectations whilst our divides the fanbase. Your WRs are overcoming injuries to be elite whilst ours regularly share time on short term IR and your OLine has been shuffled to bring a calming presence whilst ours is just moving the fire from one side to the next. The centre position is horrifically undervalued in Miami, I have been crying for one since Mike Pouncey finished and each year we take a 1 year rental it seems.
So yeah, you could say we’re pretty down in the dumps right now. But what is the Baltimore perspective on Miami football right now? Has our start surprised you? Did you expect this of us? Or is this exactly where you expected we would be?
The Ravens have long been known for stout defensive performances and as such Ravens, fans are often keeping an eye out on who is being talked up in this area. Whilst defensive performances often aren’t sticky year to year, most Ravens fans would have expected better out of this Miami unit and in particular seeing the relatively low amount of turnovers is surprising given the talents in the
secondary. On the offensive side of the ball, Dolphins fans saw first-hand how much of a leap Lamar made in year two when he opened the 2019 season with a 59-10 win in The Hard Rock Stadium. Perhaps expecting that from Tua would have been a bit much but seeing the offence still struggle so drastically after money was pumped into it, is quite a surprise. When Lamar has looked his best it’s usually behind an offensive line playing well and from an outsiders perspective, it feels like Miami could have concentrated more on solidifying that position this offseason.
I think that’s a pretty fair assessment to be fair mate. Especially where the OLine is concerned. The issue we have with that line is that there are SO MANY resources pumped into it. Eichenberg was a 2nd round pick, which we traded up for and he’s struggled. Solomon Kindley, a 4th rounder who can barely make the field. Michael Dieter was a 3rd round guard, converted to centre but been out on IR and Austin Jackson… well, wow. First round pick Austin Jackson, the less said about him the better. Robert Hunt at RG is the only OLineman performing consistently well and he was a 2nd round pick himself.
It is not that we haven’t tried to fix the OLine, but we have put a lot of faith in rookies and young men who maybe need a veteran presence and example to follow that we haven’t been able to provide them with. That and a terrible analysis of talent coming out of college. Look at the weaknesses in the guys we picked, and add in that our OLine coach publicly admitted that he believed Tristan Wirfs would only make it as a guard at this level, and you see we have significant OLine issues.
What do you see from us moving forward though? This just a blip or could you see us sliding into further seasons of struggle all over again?
Brian Flores gained plenty of credit in his first two years but if the defence isn’t playing well and a quarterback selected by this regime isn’t developing then it’s fair to ask questions about almost everyone’s future. On offence there’s no consistent plan at running back, the line is a mess, Gesicki is out of contract in a matter of months and Parker’s contract only runs till 2024, whilst Fuller is a free agent again this offseason. If we throw in the questions about Tua it’s very hard to see a cohesive plan and path to improvement. Whilst the Bills have improved and the Patriots seemingly have a reasonable quarterback, the Dolphins and the Jets are both games that any Ravens fan will look forward to for the foreseeable future.
Well, that’s bleak! I mean a lot of us feel similar. But we still hold out hope that Gesicki could be resigned, everything he seems to say points to his love for the city and such so he gives us hope. And the likes of Jaelen Phillips and Jaylon Waddle also give us hope. We also drafted Jeavon Holland last year, a safety out of Oregon. He got his first INT last week and seems to be a real baller. So we still have some key pieces, if we can upgrade key foundation pieces then maybe we have the talent to finally make an impact. It’s the hope that kills you eh?
So who on YOUR roster should we be concerned about? Obviously there are the household names we are all aware of, but are there any players going under the radar who could cause us issues?
Whilst Mark Andrews, Hollywood Brown and Rashod Bateman will draw the immediate fantasy starts and get peoples attention there are plenty of other players who have come through in big spots this season. Devin Duvernay was a third-round pick in 2020 and whilst he hasn’t broken out as a receiver, the team has sought ways to get him involved. Against the Chargers Duvernay was featured on two jet sweeps in the opening drive, and he leads the league in yardage gained on punt returns with an average of 16.7. In Week 9 he caught an impressive one-handed touchdown against
the Vikings right up against the out of bounds lines. Whilst Duvernay might not get the headlines, keep an eye out for number 13.
On the defensive side of the ball, Odafe Oweh was drafted with the 31st pick in this year’s draft. Coming out of college much was made of his lack of sacks in college, as he picked up zero in his final year. The Ravens however tend to approach pass rush differently to a lot of teams and saw traits in him they knew they could exploit. His speed is daunting, running a 4.37 40-yard dash and so far he’s made several big plays including a forced fumble and recovery after punching the ball out of Clyde Edward-Helaire’s arms, which helped to seal the win over the Chiefs. Oweh only has three sacks on the season, but against an offensive line that leads the league in pressure allowed, I’d imagine he’ll flash.
Yeah I did a few draft articles and with us sat at #18, where we eventually took Jaelen Phillips, there was a lot of talk of a trade back and Oweh was one of the names I looked at and covered. You are absolutely right his lack of sacks was on EVERYONES lips but his speed and athleticism were almost unrivalled. I’m not surprised he’s carving a role for himself, although I hope he has an off night on Thursday.
So there is plenty for us to be concerned about, evidently. But what areas of your game are we able to target do you think? If we are to stay competitive in this fixture, what areas of your game should we be looking to exploit?
The Ravens are allowing a lot of deep passes against the secondary, and whilst it’s not really Tua’s style it would be an area for the Dolphin’s to target, especially with starting safety DeShon Elliott placed on season-ending I.R after week nines game. Through nine games the Ravens have allowed eleven touchdown passes of 30 or more yards. Equally, the Ravens have struggled to tackle at times, particularly at the linebacker spot.
Well if reports are to be believed, it may not be Tua yet anyway. Brissett is more inclined to throw deep but still not as regular, nor as accurate as we would like. I think the OLine is a reason for this. Can’t get our WRs in position often enough when the pocket collapses within a couple of beats. That said, if we can get Gesicki and Waddle to cause your LBs some issues, then that could move the chains some. Would depend on how well we take any scoring opportunities, we have left a lot of points on the field this year.
But I’ve named a couple there, who else on our roster worries you? Anyone? Are there any players suiting up for Miami this week that you feel could cause you problems?
Corner/Safety hybrid, Jimmy Smith, will likely be deployed to man cover Mike Gesicki at times and what the ten-year veteran lacks in speed, he makes up for with smart and physical play and he’ll need all of that against Gesicki. Tight ends have feasted on the Ravens this season, with the defence giving up big days to the likes of Darren Waller and Travis Kelce but also to lesser-known players such as C.J Uzomah of the Bengals. The Dolphins offence has looked good when it has run through Gesicki in recent weeks and I’d be surprised if that isn’t a key matchup in this game.
No arguments from me, especially if you are struggling making tackles at LB too! I always fear Gesicki is under used in truth. He’ll march us on the field and then come out in the redzone, which is a double killer when he’s in your fantasy team, let me tell you haha! I also like Waddle too man, I know he hasn’t had those explosive weks that Jamaar Chase has had, but I swear, Waddle is the real deal.
But there’s one name we haven’t talked about. One of the most discussed names in our Franchise. What is the Baltimore Ravens fanbase’s view on Tua Tagovailoa. The narrative seems to change weekly for that man, and he may not get the start again this week, which doesn’t help his “injury prone” tag. I still hold out hope for the man, I am invested in him and nothing would please me more than to see him silence the doubters. But what is the Ravens’ view?
After Lamar Jackson’s first-year questions were asked of his style and ability to succeed in this league. He knocked those to pieces in 2019 and most people connected to the team would credit his drive to get better for that. Lamar had a lot better circumstances surrounding him than Tua does and even if Tua matches that drive, I’m not sure it’s enough to succeed in Miami at this point. Whilst Stephen Ross and Chris Grier can kid themselves that they have to do due diligence on any available quarterback the mere fact they’re doing that shows they’re ready to move on and not convinced by Tua. Tua isn’t a bad quarterback, but he’s low on confidence in a terrible situation surrounded by a lot of people heading towards losing their jobs. I truly believe he can succeed with a good offensive line and some stability. Whether he gets that in Miami is a different matter.
That absolutely seems to be where this narrative is heading. Tua will play in this league and do well, but he may have to leave Miami to do that. If that’s the case I am conflicted. Because I believe in the kid and I am invested in seeing him succeed and if that is elsewhere, then I wish him all the luck in the world. But it would really sting to see that happen elsewhere due to significant mis-management. Fingers crossed he turns this around.
But back to the game. How do you see it going, what is your prediction?
With both teams seasons in consideration, I’ll go 27-14 to the Ravens. The Ravens have been elite in prime time under Lamar Jackson and I think the Raven’s efficiency will be the deciding factor here.
Ok, that is not as bad as I was expecting. I think the fact that I feel a 27-14 loss isn’t as bad as expected shows just how low our expectations are. I think we get a few scores this week. Even if they are garbage time TDs, I think there is enough to exploit if we can his. But I also think that Jackson feasts on us somewhat. So I am going to go with a 34-21 final score, in favour of the Ravens.
Thanks again for being part of this man, I appreciate you and wish you luck for the season, starting NEXT week!
So from a fanbase that is used to absolutely picking our bones in recent years, they seem to value a lot of the things that we have tried to do. But I also think they have given a fair assessment of where our flaws are. Of course we will have differing opinions, but all things considered, I think that was a measured conversation this week.
But I also think, if we can find some way of clicking on offense this week, maybe there are some surprise scores in it for us. Against Tampa, we hung in it for a while and lost pace in the second half. In the second game against the Bills we had a similar experience. If our defense can put us in a similar position again, and we can draw their secondary closer to the ball, then I think their linebacker cracks and DB frailties actually play into the hands of what we can do offensively.
A lot of this game will ride on us staying in the game defensively, which is easier said than done against Lemar Jackson and co. But maybe, just maybe, despite my own prediction this could be closer than people give us credit for.
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