If you’re a fan of good defensive back play and coverage linebackers, Thursday Night Football is for you this week. When the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins kick off at 8:25 p.m. ET on CBS, NFL Network and streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the league’s No. 30 passing offense (the Dolphins) and the league’s No. 32 passing offense (the Ravens) will square off.
What are we watching for in a game that certainly projects to be a ground-and-pound slugfest? Here are five things:
1. Many Dolphins fans will finally get their wish when Matt Moore likely takes over for the injured Jay Cutler at quarterback. Cutler, who suffered cracked ribs Sunday, will probably miss the game, coach Adam Gase announced earlier this week, which means fans who have been booing Cutler and clamoring for Moore should get their shot to see their QB for a full four quarters. Playing in relief of Cutler last week, Moore found slightly more success than the starter, especially down the field, and led the Dolphins to a 31-28 victory over the New York Jets. If Moore is able to play well again, and lead the ‘Fins to another win, could we have a full-blown quarterback controversy in South Beach?
2. Perhaps unfortunately for Ravens fans, there isn’t a backup QB in Baltimore to give them hope. Joe Flacco’s numbers this year are at an all-time low. Five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a quarterback rating (70.0) that’s lower than players like Mike Glennon, Brian Hoyer and Kevin Hogan. Flacco has never been further from “elite” status. Not surprisingly, the Ravens rank dead last in passing offense, averaging just 157.4 yards per game. It’s unlikely the Ravens even remotely consider going with Ryan Mallett over Flacco even if the former Super Bowl MVP has another bad game, but the whispers about Flacco’s future in Baltimore certainly won’t get quieter if he can’t rebound against the Dolphins.
3. Jay Ajayi was the sleek pick prior to the season when it came to prognosticating the NFL’s rushing leader, but yards have been hard to come by for the tailback who posted three 200-yard performances last season. Ajayi is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on 125 attempts so far, but all that could change Thursday night. The Ravens have hemorrhaged yards on the ground in recent games, giving up 160 yards to Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray last week and 199 to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen the week before. No team in the league has a statistically worse running D than the Ravens, which bodes well for Ajayi, whose only big games so far this year came against poor running defenses in the Chargers (28 carries for 122 yards) and the Falcons (26 carries for 130 yards).
4. Kenny Stills’ numbers with Jay Cutler through five games this season: 14 catches for 163 yards and two scores. Stills’ numbers with Moore through a little less than half of Sunday’s game against the Jets: four catches for 42 yards and two scores. It’s clear Moore has a rapport with Stills that the receiver didn’t necessarily have with Cutler. It even dates back to last season, when Stills caught three touchdowns from Moore in the final three weeks of the season as Moore filled in for the injured Ryan Tannehill. Needless to say, expect a lot of balls to be headed Stills’ way Thursday night.
5. The Dolphins released cornerback Byron Maxwell on Tuesday, showing they have full confidence in rookie corner Cordrea Tankersly, despite him giving up two long touchdowns to Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson on Sunday. The Ravens wideouts are banged up, so watching how the young corner fares against Baltimore’s receiving corps will be something to follow. Michael Campanaro (shoulder) didn’t practice Tuesday and Breshad Perriman (concussion), Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (concussion) were all limited in Tuesday’s workout as well. If they can’t go, the matchups between Tankersly and players like Chris Moore and Griff Whalen could be key.
Catch Thursday Night Football’s tilt between the Dolphins and Ravens on CBS, NFL Network and streaming on Amazon Prime Video at 8 p.m. ET.