By Matt Citak
While the Miami Dolphins are off to a rather surprising 4-2 start, their early-season success cannot be credited to quarterback play. In 5.5 games this season, starting quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown for just 995 yards, with a 62.8 completion percentage, to go along with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. The 34-year-old veteran has not topped 230 yards or two touchdowns in a game this season, and is a big reason why the Dolphins currently rank 31st in the NFL in points per game (15.3), 32nd in yards per game (261.8), and 30th in passing yards per game (180.2).
During the third quarter of Miami's Week 7 win over the New York Jets, Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins hit Cutler, causing the quarterback to suffer multiple cracked ribs. Backup Matt Moore replaced Cutler and led the Dolphins back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat their AFC East rivals. Moore finished the game 13-of-21 with 188 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, and picked up his first win of the year. Filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill last season, Moore went 2-2 in four starts.
On the other side of the field, the Baltimore Ravens have been suffering from similar struggles on offense. Long-time Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco enters this Week 8 Thursday Night Football matchup having thrown for only 1,189 yards, five touchdowns, and eight interceptions through Baltimore's first seven games of the season. The Ravens find themselves right next to the Dolphins at the bottom of the list of the league's best offenses, ranking 31st in the NFL in yards per game (277.6) and 32nd in passing yards per game (157.4).
Despite the meager stats, it is hard to put all the blame on Flacco. Baltimore's offense has dealt with an overwhelming number of injuries this season. Two of the Ravens' starting wide receivers (Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman) are currently in concussion protocol, while Jeremy Maclin has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. To make matters worse, guard Matt Skura and tight end Benjamin Watson have both been limited at practice this week with knee injuries. All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda has already been lost for the season.
THE NFL TODAY analyst Boomer Esiason weighed in on this week's Thursday Night Football matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, as well as other upcoming NFL ON CBS action in Week 8.
Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens - 8:25 PM ET Thursday - CBS and NFL Network
CBS Local Sports: The big news out of Miami is the injury to quarterback Jay Cutler. Will the Dolphins be able to stay afloat with Matt Moore under center?
Boomer Esiason: There's no question the Dolphins will stay afloat with Matt Moore. He has proven it in the past, that he is the absolute perfect backup quarterback that every team would love to have. You have a guy who knows the system, knows the players. The players certainly respect him as their quarterback. And, quite frankly, he's actually better than Jay Cutler at this moment. I'm not worried about the Dolphins as far as their quarterback is concerned. What I would worry about is their defense not playing up to the level that they're expected to. They're going against a very limited offense in the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, so I would suspect they would have a good night there as well.
CBS Local Sports: As you mentioned, Baltimore has one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the league. How do they get Joe Flacco and the offense going on Thursday?
Boomer Esiason: Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are dealing with the same set of circumstances -- injuries all around them, suspect offensive line play, and not a lot of confidence. So what do you do in order to fix issues like this that you're dealing with? You try to simplify things. You do not put your suspect offensive line on an island, so to speak, against a very good defensive line in the Miami Dolphins. Quite frankly, you need to win this game by mucking it up. Look for a low-scoring game, unlike what we saw in Oakland with the Raiders and Chiefs last week. Neither team is going to score more than 24 points in this game.
Oakland Raiders vs. Buffalo Bills - 1:00 PM ET Sunday - CBS
CBS Local Sports: The Raiders won in spectacular fashion last Thursday night. Will that big win over Kansas City be the spark this team needed to get their season back on track after losing four straight games?
Boomer Esiason: The Raiders definitely needed to win that game within their division on their home turf. There's no question about that. It may have saved their season, because games like they have this week will be extremely difficult to win on the road. Buffalo has now, all of a sudden, become one of the toasts of the NFL. They have turned their season and perception around. Their head coach, Sean McDermott, at the age of 42, has brought a newfound energy to this team. They're living on defense and certainly on the legs of LeSean McCoy. Tyrod Taylor gives them just enough to really give the Raiders trouble here on the road in Buffalo.
CBS Local Sports: Buffalo's defense has been great at keeping opponents out of the end zone this season. How do they limit Derek Carr and the Raiders on Sunday?
Boomer Esiason: First and foremost, it's all about pressure -- putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. For Buffalo, since this team is really trending upwards, I would imagine that their fans in Buffalo are really buying into what Sean McDermott is selling. There should be a minimum of 75,000 fans at the stadium this week. Home-field advantage is crucial for a defense such as the Bills'. Feeding off the energy, the noise level, and all that goes into an unsuspected run here by the Buffalo Bills will definitely give Derek Carr and his offensive mates a lot of trouble.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots - 1:00 PM ET Sunday - CBS
CBS Local Sports: Both of these teams carry momentum into Sunday's matchup, as they have both won three consecutive games. Can the Chargers keep their win streak alive on the road in Foxborough this weekend?
Boomer Esiason: Two things are evident. Both the Los Angeles defense and the New England defense have improved as the year has gone on, especially New England, who got off to a horrendous start in their first four games. But they have started to settle down. They know the system. They're communicating a lot better. And, they're getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, the same way that Los Angeles has been getting pressure all year. When you look at Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, you're talking about two of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in all of football. It's one of the reasons why they have been fueling the new surge that is [coming from] the LA Chargers. However, saying all of that, the Chargers offense is still a middle-of-the-pack unit. It's not a high-flying offense. The New England Patriots offense is one of the best in the league. The fact that this game is in New England gives the distinct advantage to Tom Brady and his offensive teammates over one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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