Ravens will face mirror in Miami

Dolphins also stand 5-4, with strong ground game and run-stopping defense

Both teams to start backup QBs

Billick: `Team that is more physical' will win

Miami has lost three of past four

November 16, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Two teams traveling similar paths are headed on a collision course today at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, where the Ravens will knock helmets with the Miami Dolphins.

Both teams are banking on relentless running games and bone-jarring run defenses to win games. Both are asking backup quarterbacks - the Ravens' Anthony Wright and the Dolphins' Brian Griese - not to lose games.

And both are standing at 5-4 with a point to prove to the rest of the league.

"These are two very physical teams," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're mirror images of each other. So whatever team wins is probably going to be the team that is more physical. That's nothing new to this series."

The hit that neither team can afford to take is another loss.

The Ravens are in first place in the AFC North but hold just a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami trails the New England Patriots by two games in the AFC East and sits on the fringes of the playoff picture.

The Dolphins have lost three of their past four games and have been battling locker room turmoil. The Ravens have been battling the skeptics and have beaten only one team with a winning record.

"They are no more desperate than we are," Billick said.

Determination - rather than desperation - has been the deciding factor when these teams meet.

Two seasons ago, the Ravens pounded out a 20-3 playoff win in Miami by running on 50 of 69 plays. A year ago, the Dolphins turned the tables in a 26-7 rout as they controlled the clock for 34 minutes behind running back Ricky Williams' 102 rushing yards.

If winning the ground game has been the answer to victory, today's question mark falls on the quarterbacks.

In replacing injured starter Kyle Boller, Wright takes his first regular-season snap since October 2001. The five-year journeyman has arm strength and mobility but carries just one win as a starting quarterback.

In replacing injured starter Jay Fiedler, Griese will be playing his fourth and perhaps final game of the season. The son of former Dolphins great Bob Griese has begun a different legacy, turning the ball over seven times in his past two games.

When their quarterbacks throw fewer than two interceptions, the Ravens and Dolphins are a combined 9-3.

"I understand the weapons that we have offensively and defensively," Wright said. "What I am coming to do is to make plays and not turn the ball over. I'm going to stay within my abilities and try to get us some wins."

The Ravens' best offensive weapon - and possibly the best in the league - is running back Jamal Lewis. The league's leading rusher is averaging 128.4 yards a game and has broken 10 runs of 20 yards or more.

The Miami defense has been just as dominant, limiting teams to an NFL-low 3.0 yards a carry while not allowing a 100-yard rusher this season. Over the past eight games, the longest run by a back against the Dolphins has been 11 yards.

But much of Miami's success is centered on middle linebacker Zach Thomas, whose playing status will be determined at game time because of a groin injury.

"Just watching him on film, this will be our best test for the running game," Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said.

The challenge is equally as formidable for Lewis.

His lowest rushing total over the past 17 games came last year in Miami, where he was held to 47 yards.

"I watched film on the last game and there were some holes there that I missed," Jamal Lewis said. "I was like, `That must be due to the inexperience in reading linemen and just getting off the knee injury.' I won't miss those holes again."

Miami's Williams understands the problem of missing holes.

The NFL's leading rusher last season has been having as much trouble breaking 50 yards, much less 100. In his past two games, he has not gained more than 37 yards.

In the 12 games in which Williams has gained 100 yards, Miami has won 10 times.

The Ravens, who have the league's eighth-ranked run defense, know the importance of keeping Williams down. Coming off their best effort of the season against the run, the Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in six straight games.

When asked if they believe they can run against the Ravens, Dolphins coach Dave Wanndstedt said, "We are going to have to. It won't be easy. We will have to line up and pound it. With all their blitzing, you can't stand back there and hold the ball long and throw it."

What the Ravens can't allow is Miami to take an early lead.

With their run-dominated game plan, the Ravens need to control the tempo and keep within striking distance. When they have been down by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, the Ravens are 0-3 this season.

"It just seems that's the way our offense is," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We're not the type of offense that can get into a slugging match of touchdowns. We'll play it out and see who wins in the third and fourth quarter. I don't think it's going to be any different Sunday."

Going by this series history, the team that can hold its ground will stay on course for the playoffs.

"It's going to be an intense game," Mulitalo said. "We're both 5-4 and both have a point to prove to our conference and to keep our dreams alive. We're in charge of our destiny, and they're in our way."

Ravens today

Matchup: Ravens (5-4) vs. Miami Dolphins (5-4)

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Dolphins by 6

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