After winning their last two games, the Las Vegas Raiders are back to .500 and have an outside shot at earning an AFC Wild Card spot. However, the Antonio Pierce-led Raiders will face their toughest test yet in Week 11 as Las Vegas is double-digit underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook to the Miami Dolphins.
So, if the Silver and Black are going to pull off the upset, they’ll need to win the three key matchups listed below.
1) Moehrig/Epps vs. Waddle/Hill
It’s no secret that the Dolphins’ offense has been explosive this season, especially in the passing game.
Tyreek Hill is a big reason why as he’s tied for the most receptions on deep targets (12) in the NFL while also owning the outright lead in yards (470) and touchdowns (six) on such targets, per Pro Football Focus. For good measure, Hill leads the latter two categories by 80 yards and two scores, meaning he’s kind of in a class of his own.
That alone will put a ton of pressure on safeties Tre’von Moehrig and Marcus Epps. But what makes Miami so dangerous is Jaylen Waddle is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, too.
Granted, Waddle does the majority of his work as a catch-and-run receiver with his most productive targets coming in the intermediate range. That’s where 42.5 percent of his catches (17), 49.6 percent of his yards (259) and two out of his three touchdowns have come from, via PFF.
He also has 213 yards after the catch and averages 5.3 YAC per reception this season as both figures rank in the Top 20 among wide receivers. Waddle’s speed can really test a safety’s angles when the ball is in his hands, meaning Moehrig and Epps need to be nearly perfect in pursuit to limit the Dolphins’ explosiveness.
The good news is Las Vegas’ safeties have been good at keeping receivers in front of them for the majority of the year, and they only have six missed tackles each or about one every other game. That being said, this Sunday will be a completely different test so Moehrig and Epps will need to bring their ‘A-games’.
2) Greg Van Roten vs. Christian Wilkins
With how explosive the Dolphins’ offense is and with how Pierce has mentioned several times about focusing the Raiders’ offense on running the ball, expect the Silver and Black to pound the rock early in the game. That way they can control the clock and play keep away while also feeding one of their best offensive players, Josh Jacobs.
However, Miami’s defensive tackle Christian Wilkins can easily throw a wrench into those plans.
Wilkins is an excellent run defender whose 72.1 PFF run defense grade ranks 16th among defensive tackles this season. While he only has 12 defensive stops against the run, that’s partially because the Dolphins’ opponents have been throwing the ball more frequently while playing from behind and that figure still ranks in the top 30 for the position.
Keeping the defensive tackle in check will be key to how much success Las Vegas has on the ground, and over 92 percent of Wilkins’ snaps this year have come as either a left defensive tackle or end. That means Greg Van Roten is in for a tough assignment.
Van Roten does have a good run-blocking grade from PFF with a mark of 69.8 which is 13th among guards. That figure does seem generous though as the Raiders are only averaging a little more than 3.4 yards per carry on runs to the right A- and B-gaps.
However, this is a great opportunity for Van Roten to make a name for himself by beating a very good run defender, and Las Vegas is going to need him to have a big performance as controlling the ball will be one of their biggest keys to victory.
3) John Jenkins vs. Connor Williams
In addition to their passing game, Miami’s rushing attack is explosive as well. They lead the NFL with 5.9 yards per carry as a team, which is a full yard better than anyone else as Baltimore ranks second at 4.8 ypc. Also, the Dolphins could be getting De’Von Achane back, who averages 12.1 ypc.
Against the run this week, the biggest key for the Raiders is to stop the play before it happens by winning in the middle of the trenches. That makes John Jenkins a crucial player for the Silver and Black on Sunday as he’s easily their best run-defending defensive tackle.
Jenkins’ 68.0 PFF grade as a run defender is 25th among interior defenders this season, and he’s tied for 12th with 18 defensive stops against the run. The former Dolphin’s numbers should pay dividends this weekend versus his former team, however, he will be facing a worthy adversary in center, Connor Williams.
Granted, he’s only played in five games during the campaign, but Williams has been a very effective run-blocker in those contests with an 81.6 PFF grade in that department, tied for fourth at his position. He also should be completely healthy and ready to go on Sunday seeing as he just had a bye week to heal up.
So, this has the makings of a dogfight in the trenches.