The Dolphins come into town at 5-5 and, just like the Raiders, two games out of the final AFC Wild Card spot. To listen to their fans, you'd never know. The majority of them are treating this season like it's Mel Gibson's career, over. Blame it on injuries, a tough division, a dwindled fast start or a shutout loss at home against the Chicago Bears, but there is a sense of doom and gloom in the fish tank.
I'm not buying that though and I hope the Raiders aren't approaching it this way. The Dolphins still have a tough and mostly healthy defense and in the world of NFL parity, this will give you a chance in any game. The Dolphins fans' outlook is probably mostly rooted in the fact that after a 2-0 start they are 3-5. But in those eight games only one team, the Bengals, is below .500 and only two of the teams, Bengals and Titans, are not currently in a playoff slot.
As for the shutout loss, the Dolphins may have been their own toughest opponent in that one as they utilized the World's Dumbest Game Plan. They had their 3rd string QB, backups all over the O-line and they came out throwing. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown had a combined total of six first half carries. I am the type that is almost alway going to point to execution over game plans, but that one was a head scratcher. We'll see if their pass happy ways continue. As I am sure you've noticed, teams like to try and get the run going against the Raiders.
Injuries will play a big factor in the game plans and both teams have some that we'll monitor as the week goes. Most notably for the Dolphins is QB Chad Henne and C Joe Berger. Both of whom are questionable right now. Making their health a paramount concern for the Dolphins is the fact that both of their backups are out.
The other key Dolphin injury is our old friend, Brandon Marshal. Marshall has not been ruled out, but for anyone who saw him fall like he was shot in the back of the leg and then getting helped off the field knows, there is no way he is playing. Players that just slow up and walk off the field with hamstring twinges miss a week or two. Unless he is the biggest cry baby, drama king ever--he is out...so, yeah, Brandon Marshall may play.
Injuries or not, these will be the matchups that determine which team is running with their playoff hopes and which team puts theirs on life support.
Dorsal Fin To The Eye That Isn't Patched
Dolphins' Pass Rush vs Raiders' Pass Protection
Don't tell anyone, but the Raiders pass protection appears to be at a disadvantage. The Dolphins come in 5th in the league with a 7.7 sack percentage. Leading the way is rising star, OLB Cameron Wake, with 9.5 sacks. Jared Veldheer has really been through the gauntlet these last two weeks with James Harrison and Tamba Hali and it is not going to get any easier this week. The Dolphins run a 3-4 and they get the majority of their sacks with their LBs.
Dolphins' Red Zone Defense vs Raiders' Red Zone Offense
The Dolphins are 3rd in the NFL at keeping teams out of the endzone 62.1 percent of the time when they reach the redzone. Meanwhile, the Raiders continue to struggle in the redzone and they may be out of practice since it's been three weeks since they've been in it. They are 25th in redzone TD conversions at 44.12.
Woops, Are Those Dolphins In Our Pirate Nets
Raiders' Defensive Line vs Dolphins' Offensive Line
The Dolphins offensive line is struggling and it's understandable. They are banged up. LT Jake Long is playing with one arm not in its socket and this won't even be their biggest concern on Sunday. With the Raiders dominant DT play, the biggest problem area here for the Dolphins is going to be on the interior of the line. The return of C Joe Berger could help, but even if he does, chances are he is going to be somewhat South of 100 percent and he is going to have his hands full.
On the season, the Dolphins are 12th with a 5.1 sacks allowed percentage, but this number is falling as injuries are taking their toll. The last three games, the Dolphins have a 8.3 sack percentage. This matchup isn't just going to effect the passing game.
The Dolphins are 17th this season in percentage of runs stuffed at the line. The Raiders are 9th in stuffing runs. A number that only looks to go up with the increased action of John Henderson. Something to watch will be the short yardage runs. An interesting thing here is, and I can't figure it out, is the Dolphins are the second best team in converting first downs with the run in power situations. The Raiders' defense is 4th best at stopping them.
Zach and the Backs vs Dolphins' Pass D
The Dolphins have a good pass rush, which bodes bad for Jason Campbell, but they have the 29th and 31st ranked DVOA against TEs and RBs in the passing game. This bodes very well for Jason and the Raiders. Hopefully Zach Miller is healthy enough to take advantage of this and it could be a big week for Marcel Reece. Let's see if Hue decides to dial up a few screen passes this game.
Raiders Swimming With Dolphins
Raiders' Rush Offense vs Dolphins' Rush Defense
The Dolphins are 20th in rush yards allowed per game, but this number is misleading. Teams are running against the Dolphins with more frequency than 26 other NFL teams and despite the increased workload, they are 9th in yards allowed per carry at 3.9. Don't expect the method to attack the Dolphins to change here as the Raiders are 6th with 47.6 percent of their plays being runs.
When the Raiders do run, they'd be wise to go outside or right up the gut. Football Outsiders adjusted line yards finds the Dolphins 24th and 25th outside the Tackles and 31st right up the middle. All places the Raiders have been able to pop for big plays.
Look, these two teams combined to score three points last week. Field position could be huge. The Dolphins don't punt or cover the punt exceptionally well. They are 24th in net punting yards and 19th in punt average. It'll be nice if the Raiders can actually get Nick Miller some room to work with.
The Raiders on the other hand, punt the hell out of the ball and they do a good job of covering it. They are currently second in net punt yards. Davon Bess is one of the better punt returners in the league, however, and he is averaging 10.5 yards per return. The Raiders have also seen two punts get returned for TDs recently only to be called back for holds. The return game may be key on Sunday.
How The Raiders Make Dolphins Their Bitches and Ride Them To Victory
First and foremost, the offense needs to improve in money time (3rd downs and the redzone). We touched on the redzone struggles, but 3rd Downs are also a huge concern. The Raiders are currently 27th in 3rd down conversion rate. This offense needs to stay out of 3rd and longs. They don't have the WRs or the pass protection to excel their. When they do need to throw on 3rd down, throw it to Zach.
In the end, I don't care what down they convert on, as long as they do, They need to keep the chains moving to get the running game into a rhythm and then hit with some big play actions. The best way to overcome a bad redzone matchup is to score before you get there.
Deffensively, the D-line needs to lead this team to victory. This has become the heart and soul of this team and Richard Seymour has a whole half of football to make up for. I want to see him taking out his anger like Adam Sandler in the Waterboy. Just picture Big Ben's mendulla oblongata on the faces of the Dolphins.
This should help force the Dolphins into third and longs and put the game in the hands of their QB. Which is right where the Raiders want it. It is either going to be a 3rd stringer or the INT prone starter.The Dolphins have actually been been good in avoiding 3rd and longs. They are 7th with a 42.9 3rd down conversion percentage.
They do this primarily by using a shorter passing attack. They are 22nd in yards per completion. The DBs need to play physical and get a good jam at the line of scrimmage, especially on slot WR Davon Bess, to disrupt the timing of their offense. Make the QB pause just long enough to give the Big Dogs something to eat.
The Dolphins are a desperate team right now and they may empty the play book. The Raiders will have to stay alert and make them earn every yard. And, just like any game, win the turnover battle, which is something the Dolphins have not been doing. They are -5 on the year.