OWINGS MILLS — In preparation for Sunday’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins, Ravens safety Earl Thomas has been doing his usual routine of film study.
What’s different is the team he has been breaking down.
“I’m just trying to watch some New England stuff. Obviously, it’s different personnel with Tom Brady and the guys around him,” Thomas said Wednesday. “I’m trying to get a feel for what they like to do. It’s a lot of quick game, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary that we should be scared of or anything like that.”
It makes sense. New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has coached in the Patriots organization since 2004, spending the last three seasons working with the linebackers. He hired another New England alumni, Chad O’Shea, as offensive coordinator. O’Shea spent a decade working on the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff.
“They’re new in a lot of ways, no question. Obviously, they have Coach Flores in there from New England. All three coordinators have ties to that system. I would say that’s kind of their philosophy, scheme and strategy. It’s built along those lines. I have the utmost respect for it. Of course, we studied a lot of that as well. A lot of the study that we’ve done has not just been Miami tape, but it was also a lot of New England tape. We’ve had to take a hard look at the new players they brought in this week,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s a big challenge. They have great schemes, excellent coaches and excellent players. We don’t really know what to expect, but I don’t know if you ever really do in your opener.”
The Dolphins sent two of their best offensive players, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills, to the Houston Texans for a host of draft picks this week. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey said the trades add to the unknown the Ravens face Sunday.
“You kind of have to get in the game and feel out how it’s going to be,” he said. “As far as for us as a team, it’s a good chance to go with what we know best and whatever they put up against us.”
The Ravens will take the field in humid Miami with many question marks persisting about the offense they will meet, but they have solid knowledge over what to expect from one major piece of it. Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the Dolphins’ Week 1 starter. The 36-year-old has played for one quarter of the league as he will start for his eighth NFL team.
“He’s been in this league a long time, and he’s done a bunch of great things,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “Obviously, he’s known for being able to throw the ball deep and make big plays. So, when you pair him up with a coach and a system that comes from the Patriots’ system, obviously that’s going to impose some challenges there.”
Fitzpatrick spent last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He caught the league’s attention when he began the year with three consecutive 400-yard games. He is capable of looking like one of the NFL’s top quarterback’s one week, or ‘Fitzmagic,’ only to be benched the following.
“Streaky. He can get hot, and it can go the other way for him,” Thomas said when asked what comes to mind when thinking about Fitzpatrick. “We definitely want to make it hard on him. We know he likes to step up in the pocket. We just want to make it as hard as possible on him.”
Running back Mark Ingram, who signed with the Ravens this offseason after spending the first eight years of his career with the New Orleans Saints, had a front-row seat to ‘Fitzmagic’ a year ago. The quarterback threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns to lead Tampa Bay past the Saints.
“I think coach has done a good job of keeping the defense and the team aware that he can look like a Hall of Fame quarterback. He can light you up when he’s on, so you’ve got to be able to respect him. He’s played a lot of snaps in the league. He’s had success. Sometimes he hasn’t, but you’ve just got to prepare for him, because he can hurt you.”
Fitzpatrick is 0-2 in his career against the Ravens as a starting quarterback, but in 2016 he replaced starter Geno Smith to lead the New York Jets to a come-from-behind win over Baltimore.
Fitzpatrick has the reputation of a gunslinger. He loves to take chances and fit the football into tight windows. The results have been remarkable, and they’ve been catastrophic.
“He’s always played well against us if you go back and look at it, so we have nothing but respect for Ryan Fitzpatrick,” Harbaugh said. “He opened up [last] season with a couple of 400-yard passing games. He’s a little bit of a swashbuckler, I would say. He’s not afraid to throw it in there, run around. He tries to make plays. Every single play, he tries to make a play out of [it]. A lot of times he does, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he hurts them. We’re hoping we’re able to cause that and do some damage that way.”
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