With the Miami Dolphins suffering a brutal 35-0 Week Two loss and losing their starting quarterback in the process, there are plenty of reasons why the Las Vegas Raiders should feel confident heading into this Sunday’s matchup.
The Raiders are 2-0 and have beaten to perennial playoff teams in the conference. On top of that, Las Vegas won in a fairly convincing fashion on the road last week in Pittsburgh, and it looks like the team finally has a competent defense for the first time in a while.
However, Miami is still loaded with talent despite their slow start and is fully capable of pulling off an upset. So of course, the Silver and Black still need to come out and execute to take care of business, especially with the matchups below.
Maxx Crosby vs. Jesse Davis
There’s no sugar coating it, the Dolphins’ offensive line has been an absolute mess this season. Collectively, they’ve allowed 34 pressures on 87 passing plays, so about one pressure every 2.5 drop backs, and rank dead last in the league with a 38.2 pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus.
Meanwhile, the Raiders currently have the highest team pass-rush grade (87.7), due in large part to Maxx Crosby’s production.
Crosby currently ranks second among edge defenders with a 91.2 pass-rush grade and leads the position group with an astounding 19 pressures through two games. For reference, Arik Armstead ranks second with 15, and Von Miller and Melvin Ingram are tied for third with 11, so Crosby is significantly out-pacing his peers.
While the Raiders’ pass rusher has flipped sides a bit this season, he’s lined up on the left 77.2 percent of the time. That means he’ll likely face off against Dolphins’ right tackle Jesse Davis, who has already surrendered seven pressures and has a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 94.4. Both of those figures rank in the bottom 10 of offensive tackles this season, so on paper, it looks like Crosby could be in store for another big performance.
However, with Tua Tagovailoa out and Miami’s struggles in pass protection, I’d expect them to run the ball more and that’s where this matchup evens out a bit.
Davis has been solid as a run blocker so far this season, earning a 71.6 grade that’s just outside of the 15 for his position. Crosby has still been good against the run with a 77.0 grade that ranks 12th among edges, but obviously, he and Davis are much closer to each other when it comes to the ground game. Granted, Crosby tied for the most run stops at his position so the scale still slightly tips in his favor.
Against the run is where the defensive lineman is going to need to be at his best. If he, and the rest of the Raiders’ defense, can stuff the Dolphins’ rushing attack and force them to throw, then they can start to pin their ears back and take advantage of a weak offensive line.
I went into more details about how the Phins like to run around the right end in my X-factors column, so Miami could try and test Las Vegas’ defensive MVP early and often on Sunday.
Darren Waller vs. Eric Rowe
At this point, everyone knows that Darren Waller is the Raiders’ top receiver. I know it, you know and your drunk uncle calls him a key player before every single game. Wait a minute...that’s kind of what I’m doing here...
Miami has a decent tight end eraser with safety, Eric Rowe. In Week One, Rowe was able to contain Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to a combined two catches for 13 yards and one first down. Against the Bills last Sunday, the safety wasn’t even targeted.
However, Rowe has struggled mightily to cover the elite tight ends in the league.
Travis Kelce had five catches on six targets for 106 yards and four first downs against him last season, not to be outdone by Waller, who caught all five targets with Rowe in coverage and all five went for a first down and a total of 112 yards.
To put those numbers in perspective, the veteran defensive back didn’t allow more than 40 receiving yards as the primary coverage defender in any other game last season, and that’s as a whole, not even breaking it down to one matchup.
Now, Brian Flores is a good, defensive-minded head coach so I wouldn’t expect him to just leave Rowe on Waller without any help this time around. But, Flores does like to run a lot of man coverage, and the Dolphins had the second-highest blitz rate in the league last season and have dialed up the third-most blitzes so far in 2021.
That means Waller will draw at least a few one-on-one matchups with Rowe or Miami will have to alter their game plan and get out of what they do best. Either way, that’s a win for the Silver and Black.
Hunter Renfrow vs. Xavien Howard
This matchup might come as a bit of a surprise to some people, seeing as Xavien Howard is primarily an outside corner and of course, Hunter Renfrow does most of his work in the slot. But, as mentioned above, the Phins like to use a lot of man coverage, and Howard typically shadows the opponent’s best receiver.
While some might point to Henry Ruggs III as Las Vegas’ top wideout, personally, I’d disagree, and I think it would make more sense for Byron Jones to cover Ruggs since they’re closer to each other speed-wise. According to the Treasure Coast Palm, Jones’ 40-yard dash time clocks in at 4.36 seconds, whereas Howard ran a 4.58 at the combine in 2016.
Howard has also spent 28 of his 137 defensive snaps covering the slot this season, while Jones has seen just 15 snaps inside out of 150. When Miami played New England last week, the former primarily drew Jakobi Meyers in coverage, the Patriots slot receiver, while Jones was on Nelson Agholor, who has been playing on the outside this season.
So, barring a change in philosophy, I think it’s safe to say we’ll see quite a bit of Howard against Renfrow this Sunday, and that’s a matchup we’ve seen before.
Last year, the Dolphin handily won this one-on-one battle. Renfrow was targeted once with Howard covering him and had one catch for negative one yard. Seeing as the Clemson product currently leads the Raiders’ receivers with 15 targets, history cannot repeat itself this weekend.
Renfrow has become a staple in Las Vegas’ offense and they can’t afford to lose his production when Howard is covering him. It’s a tough task to ask a wideout to consistently break free from one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but if there’s one player on the Raiders’ roster that’s up for it, it’s the third-down killer.