For the first time all season, the Las Vegas Raiders will enter a game as the favorite. The oddsmakers over at DraftKings Sportsbook currently have the Raiders as a 3.5-point favorite over the Miami Dolphins.
Las Vegas certainly has the advantage on paper, seeing as Miami squeaked out a one-point victory in Week One against the Patriots and got demolished by the Bills last Sunday. However, the Silver and Black can’t get overconfident because while the Phins have a lot of question marks right now, they also have an extremely talented roster that’s capable of beating any team in the league.
Plus, the Raiders should be seeking vengeance after last year’s matchup and the performance of the players listed below will go long way towards the team’s attempt at redemption. Luckily, both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Arden Key are on different teams this time around...
It’s been a rather quiet NFL debut for Tre’Von Moehrig so far, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Safety is one of those positions - defensive backs as a whole to an extent - where the player typically only pops off the screen if something has gone wrong, and Moehrig has only been targeted twice through two games, per Pro Football Focus.
However, he did give up one catch for a 10-yard touchdown against the Ravens and has missed three tackles on eight attempts so far this season. Out of those two stats, the latter is by far the most concerning especially this week since the Dolphins have a couple of dangerous weapons on the outside.
Wide receivers DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle can both test defense deep and put a lot of stress on safeties.
Specifically, on throws 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage and outside the numbers to the left last season, Parker hauled in three of six targets for 78 yards, a touchdown and a 135.4 passer rating. His numbers were even more impressive going back to the 2019 campaign.
That season, he was targeted 29 times on deep balls in general and had 478 yards, five touchdowns and a passer rating of 134.0. The wideout also caught six of nine contested targets on such throws, so Moehrig’s range and skills at the catch point will be tested on Sunday.
As for Waddle, he’s a little more of a complete receiver who can win down the field and make defenders miss after the catch on shorter routes. The rookie has only had one deep target so far in the NFL, a 36-yard catch, but he torched secondaries in college last season.
The Alabama product was targeted seven times on deep passes, catching six of them for 329 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. And remember, he missed the majority of the season with a broken ankle.
Waddle has also already forced two missed tackles so far this season and boasts an impressive 6.5 yards after the catch per reception, which ranks tied for 18th among wide receivers with at least four targets.
So, not only will Moehrig have to keep these two in front of him, but he’ll also have to shore up his tackling technique to limit the Dolphins’ explosive plays. The Raiders defense as a whole has been able to do just that so far, but of course, they’ll be tested again this weekend.
Over the last few offseasons, the Raiders have made several attempts to improve their linebacker situation. Trading for Denzel Perryman at the end of training camp was one of the many moves the organization made, and he’s already paying dividends as a run defender.
Perryman has been a tackle machine as he leads the team with 22, and he’s been racking up quality tackles as well. So far, he has five defensive stops against the run, which is tied for seventh-most among linebackers and only one fewer than the six-way for first, and his 2.2-yard average depth of tackle ranks in the top 25 for the position.
That should come in handy on Sunday.
Miami’s starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, left last week’s game with bruised ribs and won’t play against the Raiders. So, the Dolphins will be playing with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, meaning they’re probably going to want to run the ball more than usual.
Collectively, the Phins love to run the ball around the right end or outside of the right tight end. They have 13 attempts on such runs for 60 yards - 4.6 ypa - and haven’t even tried any other direction more than five times this season.
This trend holds true for Myles Gaskin, Miami’s top running back, who has five carries for 41 yards - 8.2 ypc - when rushing to the right end, and that accounts for about 36 percent of his carries and about 55 percent of his rushing yards so far this season.
That will likely put a lot of stress on Perryman since he’s played at the left linebacker spot more than anyone else on the roster. He should be up for the task since he’s played well so far, but the seven-year pro can’t afford to have a letdown this week.
While we still don’t know much about Richie Incognito’s injury, including the extent of it, he hasn’t practiced in about a month, so we’re at the point where it’s safer to assume he isn’t playing each week rather than he is. That means Las Vegas will likely be rolling with John Simpson and Jermaine Eluemunor at guard once again, and the latter could be in for a fight on Sunday.
Miami has a solid defensive line that is anchored by defensive tackle, Christian Wilkins. While he does flip between both sides, Wilkins has spent about 64 percent of his time on the offense’s right this season, and he’s been a force against the run so far this year and in the past.
The former Clemson Tiger currently has four run stops, which is tied for 12th among defensive tackles and only two behind the leaders. In 2020, he had 29, the fifth-most at the position, and that was in 14 games while the four players ahead of him all played in 16.
It’s worth noting that he averaged just over two per game and would have taken over the top spot had he played a full 16-game slate last season, and he’s currently producing at the same rate this season.
Running the ball has been an issue so far for Las Vegas as they currently rank dead-last in the league, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry as a team. Eluemunor has been a big part of that problem as his PFF run-blocking grade (38.3) ranks 69th out of the 70 guards that have run blocked at least 14 times this season. Who is currently sitting in dead last? That would be Simpson.
So, if Incognito is out again, the Raiders are going to need those two step up and keep Wilkins in check. I’d imagine Eluemunor would get the nod over Simpson if Incognito is back, but regardless of who’s playing right guard, that player needs to bring their “A-game” and start to turn things around.
I’ve already touched on Cory Littleton’s struggles earlier this week, so I won’t continue to harp on that here. But I will summarize for those who missed it (link above), he’s still been terrible in coverage for the Raiders and is missing tackles left and right.
Both of those things are going to have to change this week as the Dolphins have Mike Gesicki, who is a very athletic tight end.
Back in 2018, Gesicki turned heads at the combine after putting up some impressive numbers and earning a 9.95 out of 10 Relative Athletic Score. While yes, that was a while ago, but he’s also coming off the best and most productive year of his career, catching 53 balls for 703 yards and six touchdowns.
Granted, the former Nittany Lion has gotten off to a slow start in 2021. He’s been targeted nine times but only has three catches for 41 yards and no touchdowns. But if the Raiders defense focuses too much of their attention on Parker and Waddle, Gesicki is more than capable of tearing them apart.
So, if Littleton is going to start to turn things around, there’s no better time than this Sunday.
Miami’s secondary is elite, especially at cornerback. Both Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are former Pro Bowlers and are playing well so far this season.
Howard has been targeted 10 times and allowed six receptions but for just 73 yards, and he’s already had one interception and a pass breakup to give himself a passer rating of 76.3 when targeted. While Jones hasn’t been quite as effective, allowing six grabs on 12 attempts thrown his way for 82 yards, he’s also been active when the ball is in the air with three passes defended and a 72.2 rating when targeted.
Those two allow the Dolphins to just play man coverage on the outside and lock up wide receivers without any safety help. In turn, that means the other defenders on the field can focus their attention on the interior guys and use bracket or double coverages to take them away. I’d expect that to be a big part of Brian Flores’ game plan on Sunday, meaning it could be tough sledding for Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow.
So, one of the Silver and Black’s outside receivers, Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, need to win their one-on-one matchups to get the Phins out of that look.
While neither of them has 4.27-speed, I think Howard and Jones are physical and fast enough to at least keep Ruggs in front of them. Plus, Ruggs isn’t exactly going to be flying under the radar any more after putting together the performance he did last week. Edwards, however, might not have the defensive back’s attention and could even provide a much more favorable matchup for the Silver and Black.
At 6’3, 215 pounds, he has the size advantage over both of them - Howard stands at 6’1” and 192 pounds and Jones is 6’0” and 205 pounds - so I think the wideout should be able to do what he does best, win on contested catches. He’s two for two on contested targets so far this season and both came against the Ravens, by far the most productive game of his career.
If Edwards can win against Howard and/or Jones early on, that will force Miami to put someone else on him and thus, free things upon on the inside for Waller and Renfrow. It’s a lot to ask of a second-year player to beat a couple of top-tier cornerbacks, but he has the ability to alter and potentially ruin the Dolphins’ entire game plan.