The Dolphins stunned Baltimore in a game where they not only won, but they dominated the Ravens offense. Like many games in the NFL, 3rd down told the story. The Ravens finished just 2-for-14 on the money down and failed to convert on their first 7 attempts (taking them into the second half). Tough to get much going on offense when you can’t sustain drives.
Brian Flores and the Dolphins defense gave Baltimore roughly the same look throughout the night on 3rd down (and in some other obvious passing situations): 7-8 defenders on the line of scrimmage with no clue about who would be rushing, often with Cover-0 behind it and the defenders in coverage aligning near the sticks:
The overall approach was to threaten with potential blitz pressure inside pre-snap, forcing the protection to account for it. Post snap, some of those defenders inside would drop out into coverage. The pressure would then come from the edge, where the protection did not have the numbers to account for everyone. Multiple times, Miami got free rushers in on Lamar Jackson.
This was the first 3rd down of game, which set the tone for the rest of the night. You can see below how the Ravens accounted for the rush. Notice that they could not account for the defender all the way to the left:
The Dolphins weren’t bringing every potential pass rusher, though. Several defenders in the middle (2 defensive linemen and a linebacker) dropped out into coverage:
Two of them showed a rush initially to occupy their blockers before dropping into coverage. The end result was a free runner off the edge despite rushing just 5 against a 7-man protection. Lamar Jackson was forced to make a rushed off-balance throw:
On this 3rd down later in the game, Miami again crowded the line of scrimmage with 8 potential pass rushers. Once again, they dropped defenders out in the middle and brought too many pass rushers off the edge for Baltimore to account for:
Once again, the defenders dropping out initially showed a rush to occupy their offensive linemen:
From the sideline angle, you can see that none of Baltimore’s receivers had turned around by the time the pressure was in on Jackson:
That’s one of the consequences of being in 3rd-and-long. Hot routes or sight adjustments aren’t always great options because receivers have to run deeper routes to get to the first down markers.
Miami varied their pressures out of these looks throughout the night. On this 3rd down, for instance, they only ended up rushing four. Baltimore actually picked up the pass rush, but the coverage forced Lamar to hold the ball:
Miami’s coverage looks worked hand-in-hand with the pressure to keep the Ravens off balance, as you could see above. With 7 or 8 men on the line, the remaining defenders would align near the first-down marker pre-snap. Then they’d either play Cover-0 man, rotate to zone coverage, or sit at the sticks ready to pounce on any quick throws created by the pressure. The Ravens played right into Miami’s hands by finding themselves in so many 3rd-and-long situations (10 of 14 third downs).
Below you can see a few examples of how Baltimore’s quick throws didn’t do much to get Miami out of these pressure looks on third down:
The Dolphins were consistently able to close on the ball carrier and make the tackle well short of the line to gain:
Baltimore was never able to get a handle pre-snap on what the Dolphins were doing. They had no answers all night as a result.
You can bet that every team remaining on the Ravens schedule is going to watch Miami’s 3rd-down approach and take notes. Not every defense will be able to play the same way. But there will be some, which means the Ravens better come up with a better plan soon.