Dolphins strive to stretch winning streak against Ravens
Even though the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens play in different divisions in the AFC, they are familiar foes.
The teams will meet for the fifth straight season Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore has won three of the past four matchups.
This time, though, the Dolphins (4-2) have the momentum and are riding a three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Ravens (3-4) have been ravaged with injuries and managed just one win in the past five weeks.
Both team, however, have struggled to score points and this game could be a low-scoring affair.
"I guess we're both trying to find ways to get better," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. "We're all working on the different parts of our games. I'm sure they're not happy with certain aspects and we're certainly not happy with certain aspects of our total team game.
"Really, at this point, when you get into this part of the season, you're just trying to make sure that you're getting better every week. You're trying to avoid being inconsistent. You're trying to avoid having one good game, one bad game. Until somebody tells you you're out of it, you just keep trying to find ways to get better and you don't worry about all of the other noise."
Backup Matt Moore is expected to get his first start of the season for the Dolphins after Jay Cutler injured his ribs last week against the New York Jets. Moore was solid in relief and helped Miami rally from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit for a key 31-28 victory.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the change in quarterback did not alter his team's preparation.
"Both quarterbacks run the same offense; the rest of the guys out there will be the same guys," Harbaugh said. "So, you're preparing for the complete group, more than you are any one player. Each of the two quarterbacks brings a little something different. Matt Moore is a great quarterback; he's proven that. We've played him before. We understand what he brings to the table, and that'll be our focus and preparation. If that changes, we'll just have to adjust."
Miami ranks last in the NFL in total offense at 261.8 yards per game. The Dolphins will look to establish an effective running game led by Jay Ajayi, especially with short week on the road. Ajayi is seventh in the league with 442 yards and is going against a Ravens' run defense (145.3) that is ranked last. Ajayi has received at least 25 touches in four of six games. He has been dealing with knee and elbow issues this week, but was a full participant at practice Tuesday.
Despite Baltimore's challenges against the run this season, Gase expects that Ajayi will have to fight hard for every yard.
"My experience has been that it's always been tough sledding against these guys," Gase said. "When you turn on the tape and you watch what they're doing, there's a lot of runs that aren't very good. There have been a few that have kind of popped out of there -- a couple of explosive runs here and there -- but for the most part, there's not really a lot of air to run into. It's not an easy defense to run against. Their scheme is tough."
Baltimore has been equally challenged on offense and quarterback Joe Flacco has taken much of the criticism. Over seven games, Flacco has thrown for 1,189 yards with five touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 70.0 passer rating ranks 31st in the league.
However, the offense has been hampered by injuries. The Ravens are missing two starters on the offensive line and have a rookie, Jermaine Eluemunor, getting most of the reps at right guard.
In last week's 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Flacco was missing his top three receivers. Both Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) were inactive. Fellow veteran receiver Mike Wallace was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a potential concussion. Their availability against Miami is still uncertain.
Flacco hopes to overcome some of the team's struggles, regardless of whom is catching the ball.
"This is all we know -- coming out here and working on the practice field to get better and better," Flacco said. "It may not be easy all the time, but that was never promised when you came into this league. If anything, you know it is going to be tough, and there are going to be tough stretches along the way.
"We all have to keep our heads up and come out here and work on the practice field to put that last one behind us and start with a clean slate and go out on this one and get it done."
Neither team is thrilled about the short week. Nonetheless, it's a pivotal game.
"That's a very quick turnaround," said Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, who has six sacks on the year. "To be very honest, nobody is going to be ready the way they like to be. They'll be as ready as you can be on Thursday night."
Updated October 24, 2017