8:25 PM EST, CBS – Line: Ravens -3, Over/Under: 37.5
After a string of stellar Thursday Night Football games, the resurrection of the brand will be put to the test tonight in Baltimore, as the Ravens host the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium, in a matchup featuring two of the worst offensive teams in the league. With seven weeks in the books, the Dolphins (4-2, 2nd in AFC East) are perhaps the most puzzling team in the league, managing to take four out of their first six outings in spite of arguably the worst offense in the NFL. With all due respect to the job Sean McVay has done with the Rams, but if Adam Gase gets Miami into the Playoffs for a second consecutive season then you should hand him the Coach of the Year Award on a silver platter. Needless to say, given the outstanding circumstances surrounding this team’s Quarterback Position alone, not even including their displacement due to Hurricane Irma and the bizarre Substance Abuse Scandal involving Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, the ‘Fins had all the telltale signs of a train wreck. First, they were dealt a major blow in the form of Starting Quarterback Ryan Tannehill partially tearing his ACL during Training Camp, causing the Franchise to panic in search of a new Starter, eventually settling on Jay Cutler. That’s right, folks, that Jay Cutler who had officially retired from Professional Football and was set to join the Broadcasting Team at FOX. This was yet another classic example of a Coach brining in a guy that he’s worked with in the past (to varying results) simply because he’s familiar with the system, with Gase convincing Cutler to return to the league on the strength of the 2015 campaign that they spent together in Chicago, where the then Offensive Coordinator helped guide the mercurial Quarterback to his most efficient season in years. Of course, paying the man $10 million to get off the proverbial couch probably had a lot to do with it to, but either way, the scenario was set: Cutler arrived in late August, and would lead the Offense with an abridged playbook, without the benefit of any chemistry with his teammates. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? And it’s with that said that the results in South Beach have been completely unsurprising, for Gase’s charges have been DREADFUL on this particular side of the ball, averaging just 15.3 Points per Game (31st Overall) on a league-worst 278.9 Total Yards (32nd Overall), including 197.2 Yards through the air (30th Overall) on 5.0 Net Yards per Attempt (31st Overall), and another 81.7 on the ground (29th Overall) on 3.3 Yards per Carry (30th Overall). On the year thus far, they’re getting outscored by an average margin of 3.4 Points and outgained by 46.3 Total Yards per Game, so we ask again, just how the hell this team has managed to pull off a 4-2 record? Well, the Defense has been really good; Miami has fought valiantly on this side of the ball, limiting opponents to 18.7 Points per Game (6th Overall) on 308.1 Total Yards (10th Overall), while benefitting from some timely plays in close games, such as crucial Interceptions to seal the deal in consecutive weeks against the Falcons and Jets. And speaking of timely, could there have been any better time for a Quarterback change? Despite winning three games in a row, Cutler had been struggling mightily during that stretch, completing just 57.3% of his Attempts for an average of 127.0 Yards per Game on 5.08 Yards per Attempt, with five Touchdowns and three Interceptions his credit before cracking multiple Ribs midway through last weekend’s shocking 31-28 comeback victory over New York. With Cutler on the mend, longtime Backup Quarterback Matt Moore stepped in and ignited the rally, connecting on 13-of-21 Passes for 188 Yards, a pair of Touchdowns and an Interception, leading the hosts to three scoring Drives in the Fourth Quarter. Reportedly, many around Dolphins Camp felt that Moore, who has been the team’s primary Backup for the past seven years now, should have been named the Starter initially after Tannehill’s injury, citing his relationship (and chemistry) with his teammates, which was evident immediately when he took his first snaps on Sunday. Since arriving in Miami back in 2011, the 33-year old has appeared in twenty-four games, while making fifteen starts, including three last year in which he led the Dolphins to a 2-1 record, while posting a respectable stat line to boot; Moore completed 63.2% of his Attempts for an average of 224.7 Yards per Game on 8.22 Yards per Attempt, with eight Touchdowns and three Interceptions, which in all honestly puts Cutler’s recent CV with the team to shame. While it remains to be seen if he can indeed sustain this level of play over the long term, but given his predecessor’s injury history it appears to that he’ll have every opportunity to earn the full-time gig for the rest of the term.
Meanwhile, it would be nigh impossible to compile a list of the least formidable offensive teams in the league this season without the Ravens (3-4, 2nd in AFC North), who continue to limp towards the Finish Line, while the rest of the NFL races past them. Since kicking off the season with two straight victories, Baltimore has dropped four out their last five outings, which is even worse than it sounds when you consider the run of opponents that they’ve faced. You see, few teams would be so fortunate to encounter so many opponents without Starting Quarterbacks, but that has been (and will continue to be) the case for this team moving forward; over the last three weeks, they’ve met Oakland, with EJ Manuel starting in place of Derek Carr, Chicago, with Rookie Mitch Trubisky making just the second start of his career, and Minnesota, who has been starting Case Keenum in the wake of Sam Bradford’s injured knee, only to battle the Dolphins with the aforementioned Matt Moore taking the reigns under Center on a short week. That’s hardly a murderer’s row of opposing Quarterbacks, folks. So what’s the problem in Baltimore, you ask? Unlike their counterparts in Miami, John Harbaugh’s charges have had their Quarterback all season, though the relative health of Joe Flacco at the moment is certainly an open topic for discussion. The 2012 Super Bowl MVP missed the entirety of Training Camp and the Preseason healing an injured Back, only to return to guide a unit that has been completely ravaged by injuries, suspensions, defections, and even a retirement; the Offense Line has been an unmitigated disaster, with Starters such as Marshal Yanda (Ankle) and Alex Lewis (Shoulder) out for the season with various ailments, while John Urschel abruptly retired, which was before Ricky Wagner left in Free Agency, leaving behind a position group with only one lone Starter from the previous season. Piling on, there is a dearth of Tailbacks to run behind their remaining Blockers, with Kenneth Dixon (Knee) and Danny Woodhead (Hamstring) also occupying Injured Reserve. And that’s just the names that are on IR, folks, for their are roughly fifteen other members of Harbaugh’s roster that are currently listed as Questionable at the very best, which is a real problem when you’re playing on a short week. Seriously, can you imagine just how this team will be affected on BOTH sides of the ball if they are without the likes of Receivers Mike Wallace (Concussion), Brashad Perriman (Concussion), Michael Campanaro (Shoulder), and Jeremy Maclin (Shoulder), along with defensive playmakers such as Defensive Backs Tony Jefferson (Ankle), Jimmy Smith (Ankle), and Eric Weddle (Achilles), not to mention Edge Rusher Terrell Suggs (Knee)? Seriously, who the hell is left? The answer is Flacco, who whether he’s capable of doing so or not, is going to have to carry the Ravens for the foreseeable future. 2017 has not been one of the finer campaigns in the 32-year old’s successful career, completing 63.8% of his Attempts for a career-worst 169.9 Yards on 4.42 Net Yards per Attempt, with five Touchdowns and eight Interceptions. This is a case of a Quarterback being completely neutered by the absence of playmakers, for throughout his career, the one thing that you could count on with Flacco was his ability to stretch the field vertically; the veteran has owned arguably the strongest arm in the league for years now, though has rarely enjoyed any time to even attempt the deep ball, which without the luxury of Play-Action has seen those chances become fewer and farther between. His Yards per Attempt (5.3), Yards per Completion (8.3), and Net Yards per Attempt (4.42) all represent career lows, while his Sack Percentage (7.1%) is the highest it’s been in four years, which only further serves to paint the picture of a Quarterback that has had to settle far too often for short to intermediate passes, which has never really been his strong suit, for he’s rarely been a high-percentage passer, even in his best seasons. Why this franchise continues to force this guy into being something that he isn’t is indeed a conundrum that likely won’t end anytime soon; since earning a mammoth contract on the heels of Baltimore’s Super Bowl triumph, Flacco has actually averaged more Passes per Game (38.1) than any other Quarterback in the NFL during that span, which is certainly one of those statistics that most folks wouldn’t hazard to guess. All those Attempts haven’t translated into success either, for in sixty-five starts since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, No. 5 has gone a mediocre 32-33 (.492) with just one Postseason Appearance to his credit, which is a steep decline in comparison to the 54-26 (.675) CV he compiled as the Starter throughout the first five years of his career, guiding the Ravens to five consecutive Playoff Appearances in which he averaged just 31.1 Attempts per Game. The only thing this guy has ever consistently been elite at doing is playing complementary football, which is impossible to do at the moment since there isn’t anyone left to complement.