Getting out of an 0-2 hole is not a big deal. One win and the team is one win from being back to .500 a quarter through the season. Getting out of an 0-3 hole is a (w)hole lot different. It would mean they would likely have to then suddenly turn things completely around and go 10-3 over the remainder of the season. Teams don’t normally accomplish that. Not after such a poor start.
Whether the Raiders will be able to dig themselves out of this small hole and avoid a deeper one will largely be decided by how these five key match-ups play out.
Raiders stamina vs stifling heat/humidity
Two games now the Raiders have started strong only to fade down the stretch. Their 12-0 first half lead in Denver last week was impressive. The Broncos 20-7 second half comeback was more so. The Raiders were clearly sucking wind late in the heat and thin air in Denver. There won’t be the thin air in Miami, while everything else will be worse. It will be hot (88 degrees) and humid (80 percent) and the team will be in black. I was walking around South Beach Saturday in a tank top and flip flops and felt miserable and worn out after a couple hours. You can’t escape it and they’re going to be expected to spend over three hours in full pads and pitch black jerseys running around full speed.
All they can do to try and counteract it is to set up a rotation at most positions to keep any one player at any one position from hitting the proverbial wall. That won’t be easy on a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth at most positions. Especially interior defensive line.
Donald Penn vs Cameron Wake
No rest for the weary in week three. Penn goes from facing Von Miller to Cameron Wake. Even at 36, he is a force on the edge. In nine NFL seasons, even while starting just one game his first season and missing nine games in 2015, Wake still averages double digit sacks per season.
Penn hasn’t looked comfortable at right tackle and was eaten up by Miller last week. Wake will not be a step down from that. Wake will be headhunting for his first sack this season. Carr is expected to drop back and look for the big play more in this game than he did in the first two games. If he’s going to get the time he needs Penn to keep Wake from leaving him in his wake or the ‘wake’ we’ll be having is for the Raiders chances in this game.
Derek Carr vs Reshad Jones
As I mentioned, Jon Gruden would like Derek Carr to push the ball down the field more and be aggressive. Jones will be lurking to make him pay for any passes that aren’t perfect or receivers who aren’t as open as he thinks. The Pro Bowl safety had two interceptions in the season opener for the Dolphins. He had two all of last season and one of those came against Carr.
Update: Reshad Jones will not play today for the Dolphins. He will be replaced at free safety by outstanding rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick. Stall a great match-up.
Amari Cooper vs Xavien Howard
Jones may be the only Pro Bowler on this Dolphins secondary, but he is not nearly the only outstanding player in the group. Next up among the stout defensive backs is Xavien Howard. He is as lockdown as they come for the Dolphins who will be using him on the right side exclusively. While the Raiders will move their receivers around some, there will be a lot of one-on-one match-ups between Howard and Coop.
Coop is a Miami native, so this is where he should do his best work and in front of a good amount of friends and family as well. He had a big day last week, catching 10 passes on 10 targets for 116 yards. So you know the Dolphins are going to look to take him out of the game. It will be a great battle between these two. This should be fun.
Rashaan Melvin vs Kenny Stills
Stills had a big game in the season opener for the Dolphins, catching 4 passes for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. Then last week the Jets focused on stopping him, holding him to 2 catches for 17 yards. Melvin kept Demaryius Thomas under wraps last week in Denver and even caught an interception on a pass that was headed for Thomas in the end zone. With Jarvis Landry throwing passes to Baker Mayfield in Cleveland now, Stills is the Dolphins best receiver. Much like the Coop vs Howard match-up, this one is the best vs the best.