The Miami Dolphins take on the Baltimore Ravens in their first of three straight prime time games Thursday October 26th. Miami comes into the game off of a 14-point 4th quarter comeback against the New York Jets and winners of three in a row. Starting quarterback Jay Cutler was knocked out of the Jets game and is reported to have suffered multiple fractured ribs. Cutler will miss the Ravens game and his return date is still unknown. Matt Moore came in and led the team all the way back, although he was statistically similar to Cutler the offense seemed to show a bit more life when more entered the game. Moore is well respected by his teammates and has a knack for making plays, albeit sometimes negative. He will get all of the first team reps in a short week of practice. Here are three things to watch for on Thursday night.
1. How the secondary will respond now that Byron Maxwell is gone for good.
In the “surprising but not surprising” move of the week, veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell was let go from the team on Tuesday. Maxwell had fallen out of favor with the Dolphins coaching staff, and much like last year had been benched for poor performance despite being healthy after a hamstring injury early in the year.
Second year corner Xavien Howard is now the clear cut No. 1, and rookie Cordrea Tankersley has emerged recently on the opposite side despite a rough game against the Jets. Bobby McCain, who had the game changing interception to get the Dolphins in late scoring position, and Alterraun Verner round out the top four cornerback spots. Reshad Jones is playing at his usual high level and once T.J. McDonald returns from suspension after two more games, the secondary could become an area of strength for the Dolphins. Miami will be facing one of the worst passing offenses in Baltimore who rank dead last in the NFL in passing yardage. Joe Flacco has been under heavy fire both on and off the field and their receiving corps has been banged up all year. This match-up should heavily favor the Dolphins secondary, look for Matt Burke to stack the box and make Baltimore try and beat them through the air.
2. Will the Jay Train become a locomotive against a poor run defense?
It has been a down year for Ajayi and the Miami Dolphins running game in general. After a breakout season last year with 1272 yards rushing and a 4.9 yard per carry average, teams have all but shut down the Miami ground attack this year. Ajayi is only averaging 3.5 yards per attempt this year and the Dolphins as a team are ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing. The Dolphins offense as a whole has struggled and rank near the bottom in numerous offensive categories. Ajayi has to find a way to get to the second level, once again the offensive line is a mess (for more reasons than on the field). Miami ranks dead last in total yards and second to last in points per game, last week against the Jets was by far their best offensive showing of the season. Ajayi still struggled and finished with only 51 yards, he has only eclipsed 100 yards twice this year. If for once the Dolphins can get ahead early in the game, the Ravens should get a heavy dose of Ajayi.
3. Are Miami Dolphins fans still going to “Want Moore” on Friday morning?
Many Dolphins supporters finally got what they were asking for when they chanted “We Want Moore” during home games. Jay Cutler struggled and many fans, and probably players (although they would never admit publicly), wanted Matt Moore to be the Dolphins starting quarterback after Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season. Moore has been an exemplary teammate and now has his chance for at least one week to prove he can be the guy.
During the 14-point comeback against the Jets Moore and the offense played with a renewed energy. In relief of Cutler, Moore went 13 for 21 with two touchdowns and a 102.9 rating. He did have one interception and much like Cutler is susceptible to the big mistake. Moore can make most of the throws needed from an NFL quarterback but sometimes forces throws into coverage.
Given his success last year in relief of Tannehill and the faith of his teammates, Moore is deserving of a fair chance to win the starting job. Adam Gase has been unwavering in his support of Cutler but the offense has been abysmal. Cutler seemed to finally be turning the corner and moving the team, however there was still a lot of room for improvement. The main focus for Moore has to be to just manage the game, Baltimore has the worst run defense in the league and Miami needs to attack that match-up.
If Moore can keep the defense honest, make the easy throws, and hit a couple of big plays, Miami could have a big day on offense. He must stay within himself and not try to win the job on one throw. Miami’s offensive line is inconsistent so there may be a lot of quick drop backs and short throws. This game looks to be a low scoring, defensive game and points could be at a premium. With a short practice week and only now receiving first team reps, it will be interesting to see the game plan that the Dolphins’ coaches employ. If Moore has a spectacular day given these circumstances it may open Gase’s eyes to a possible long-term change under center.
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