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Things to watch for in Sunday’s Miami Dolphins-Baltimore Ravens matchup

MIAMI GARDENS — Each Miami Dolphins game provides coach Mike McDaniel and his players an opportunity to break another glass ceiling. Last Sunday’s 22-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys showed the Dolphins can defeat a team with a winning record.

This Sunday’s big test is beating a quality opponent on the road, and the Dolphins (11-4) get that opportunity at 1 p,m. on Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens (12-3), a familiar opponent that the Dolphins are playing for the third year in a row. 

In 2021, the Ravens won, 22-10, at Hard Rock Stadium. In 2022, Miami won, 42-38, by scoring 28 fourth-quarter points in Baltimore.

Here are some things to watch for in this New Year’s Eve battle: 

Dolphins beating quality opponent on the road

This would be another huge glass ceiling to shatter. You know the Dolphins’ road record under coach Mike McDaniel against teams that made the playoffs in the 2022 season: 2-8.

OK, technically the Dolphins are 2-8 in games away from Hard Rock Stadium because this year’s loss to Kansas City was in Germany, not Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs’ home.

But whatever.

The Dolphins were 1-5 last season in road games against teams that made the 2022 playoffs, defeating Baltimore but losing at Cincinnati (27-15), at San Francisco (33-17), at the Los Angeles Chargers (23-17), at Buffalo (32-29) in the regular season, and at Buffalo (34-31) in the wild-card playoff game.

This season the Dolphins are 1-3 in road games against teams that made the 2022 playoffs, defeating the Chargers (36-34) but losing at Buffalo (48-20), at Philadelphia (31-17), and against Kansas City (21-14).

Miami has whittled its losing margin in each game this season. Perhaps this is the time the Dolphins breakthrough.

Offense scoring touchdowns vs. quality opponents

Miami’s high-powered offense only scored one touchdown in the victory over Dallas. Kicker Jason Sanders made five field goals, continuing a recent downward trend.

The Dolphins have scored just eight touchdowns against their four best opponents this season — Buffalo (three), Philadelphia (two), Kansas City (two) and Dallas (one).

As you can see, the total has been declining with each game.

Granted, all but the Dallas game were on the road, but the Dallas game, the sole game at Hard Rock Stadium, was the worst showing in that regard. Interestingly, it’s the only game in this group that Miami won.

Ravens blowing fourth quarter leads, especially at home

Baltimore has a pattern in its three losses this season: It was outscored in the fourth quarter, and it blew a fourth-quarter lead. Two of those games were at home.

In the Ravens’ 22-19 overtime home loss to Indianapolis, Baltimore was outscored, 6-5, in the fourth quarter and it blew a 19-16 lead it took with 2:05 left.

In the Ravens’ 17-10 loss at Pittsburgh, the Ravens were outscored, 14-0, in the fourth quarter after entering the quarter with a 10-3 lead.

In the Ravens’ 33-31 home loss to Cleveland, Baltimore was outscored, 16-7, in the fourth quarter after taking a 31-17 lead with 11:34 left.

These fourth-quarter scares have also happened in victories.

In the Ravens’ 31-24 win at Arizona, Baltimore was outscored, 17-10, in the fourth quarter, allowing 10 points in the final 1:14. The Ravens had to recover an onside kick to secure the victory.

In the Ravens’ 37-31 overtime home victory against the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore was outscored, 11-9, in the fourth quarter after taking a slim 23-22 lead with 11:17 left. The Ravens won on a 76-yard punt return touchdown in overtime.

Baltimore has had trouble protecting leads, even at home, going back to last season when Miami had four fourth-quarter touchdowns in that wild comeback win in Baltimore.

Stopping Lamar Jackson

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Pompano Beach native who won the NFL MVP in 2019 and was the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, might be the leader in the MVP race this season.

Jackson, the Boynton Beach High alum, must be stopped, or limited, for the Dolphins to have their best chance of winning.

Jackson (19 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 97.2 passer rating; 786 yards rushing, five touchdowns) remains a dual threat.

Look for the Dolphins to use a linebacker, likely Duke Riley, who has speed and athleticism, as a “spy” on Jackson in certain situations, such as perhaps third-and-5 or -6, to keep his running to a minimum.

Wide receivers Zay Flowers (74 receptions, 752 yards, four touchdowns), who attended University School, and Odell Beckham Jr. (34 receptions, 532 yards, three touchdowns) have given Jackson good options despite the loss of tight end Mark Andrews to a season-ending ankle injury a few weeks ago.

Miami is No. 2 in the league in sacks (52) so in a sense the Dolphins are ready for Jackson. On the other hand, Jackson is different. 

Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and big plays

Both of Miami’s top wide receivers, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, could be slowed by left ankle injuries. Those injuries could limit the Dolphins’ big-play ability, which limits Miami’s offense.

The Dolphins have 11 passing touchdowns of 30 or more yards this season. Nine of those involve either Hill or Waddle.

The Dolphins have 33 passing plays of 25 or more yards this season. Among those, 29 involve either Hill or Waddle.

Hill and Waddle, of course, have excellent credentials. 

Hill leads the league in receiving yards (106 receptions, 1,641 yards, 12 touchdowns) and is vying to become the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiver.

Waddle (72 receptions, 1,014 yards, four touchdowns) has been knocked around all season but he’s the first player in franchise history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and the ninth player in NFL history to achieve that mark.

Hill and Waddle make life easier for Miami’s offense, defense and special teams.

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