The Las Vegas Raiders have a great opportunity to prove themselves in Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders are 2-0 and back to .500 after firing Josh McDaniels and naming Antonio Pierce interim head coach, bringing the team back into the playoff mix.
However, Las Vegas’ recent wins have come against weaker opponents so pulling off the upset against Miami will send a message to the rest of the league that the Silver and Black are legitimate postseason contenders. To do that, the Raiders will have to control the game, which leads us to our first mailbag question of the week.
Q: Can the run game control the clock enough to slow the Miami offense?
A: As referenced above and as you can probably assume, running the ball and controlling the clock will be Las Vegas’ biggest key to winning on Sunday with how explosive the Dolphins’ offense is.
The good news is Josh Jacobs is coming off of back-to-back weeks where he set season highs in rushing yards—98 and 116 yards, respectively—and the offensive line is coming off of their best run-blocking performance as a whole. Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree deserves a ton of credit for that as he’s changed the offensive philosophy.
Also, Miami’s defense is built more to defend the pass than the run which, obviously, works in Las Vegas’ favor. However, the Dolphins are getting better at defending the run by allowing just 3.5 yards per carry over the last three weeks, almost a half-yard lower than their season average. The matchup between Christian Wilkins and the Raiders’ interior offensive line worries me, too.
To answer the question, I think Las Vegas will be able to have success on the ground, but I’m not confident that it will be enough to slow down Miami’s offense. The defense will play a big factor in this equation too. If they come out flat like they did in Chicago—the last time the team played a 10:00 a.m. PT kickoff—and give up explosive plays to begin the game, then the offense will have to start throwing the ball and that’s where things can spiral.
Q: Do you think the Raiders can slow Miami’s offense down, and play their game instead of playing Miami’s?
A: I know Las Vegas’ defense has been playing well for the majority of the year, especially these last two weeks, but I don’t like how they match up with Miami’s offense.
At this stage in his career, Marcus Peters can’t run with guys like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, so Patrick Graham is going to have to give Peters safety help over the top. Graham won’t be able to get away with Peters playing off coverage like he has been because Hill and Waddle are pretty good after the catch too, so expect to see a lot of two-high coverages.
The problem with that is the Dolphins’ running game is really explosive too, especially if De’Vone Achane returns, so taking a safety out of the box will also be problematic. This is why Miami’s offense is so hard to stop, they’re a “pick your poison” type of unit.
To be honest, my expectations for the Raiders are pretty low heading into Sunday. If they can keep the game within one possession, I think that’s a win. Hopefully, I’m wrong but I’m not going to get more hopes up and will gladly be pleasantly surprised if they can pull off the upset.
Q: Is Crosby overdoing the crashing inside? I feel like every game there are 2/3 instances where he spins, or rips, etc to the inside and the run bounces out or QB manages to roll out. Hard to criticize since he’s balling overall but being a smidge more disciplined could help the defense.
A: The thing is Maxx Crosby also makes plays when he freelances and crashes inside. The mistakes are more noticeable because they get amplified when he’s not in the right spot and it leads to a big play. However, it goes unnoticed more when he gambles and makes the play because the end result is positive so it looks like he’s in the right spot when he actually isn’t.
So, it’s one of those situations where you have to take the good with the bad and don’t want to risk “over-coaching” a guy who is playing as well as Crosby is. Crosby is going to gamble and he has the freedom to do that whereas a guy like Malcolm Koonce doesn’t.
Now, if Maxx starts losing more than he’s winning when crashing inside, then it’s something the coaching staff might want to call out. But until then, don’t mess with a guy who’s playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level.
Q: Rich Bisaccia had that locker room’s support and was then let go for the disaster that was Josh McDaniels. Clearly, Coach Pierce has the support of the locker room. There’s something to be said for “in house”. Do you think Mark Davis has learned that a big splash name for a coach isn’t going to guarantee wins? I think the players will be thinking, ‘here we go again’ if another coaching change occurs.
A: I definitely think the Bisaccia to McDaniels disaster will weigh on Davis’ mind and play a factor in Pierce’s ability to keep the job. I don’t think Davis will want to make the same mistake twice and, as you pointed out, Pierce does seem to have command of the locker room. If the Raiders can finish the year with eight or nine wins, then Pierce has a legitimate shot at getting the full-time gig in my mind.
Q: I watch every Raiders game and I’m just not seeing anything from Tyree Wilson. No moves, spin, dip, or anything, he just gets swallowed up by offensive linemen. Is this really just a product of missing training camp?
A: Wilson didn’t have a big pass-rush arsenal coming out of college and his game has always been more predicated on power or turning speed to power. However, he’s still learning how to use his hands and long arms which is leading to him getting swallowed up by blockers.
Missing a lot of practice time plays a big factor in that because use of hands as a pass rusher is predicated on timing and placement, and the only way to get better at that is to take more reps. To use a cross-sport reference, it’d be like trying to hit a home run off of a 90 mph fastball without taking any batting practice to get a feel for it.
So, I wouldn’t expect to see a ton of spin or finesse moves from Wilson because that’s just not his game, but let’s see what he can do after a full offseason where he can train and work on the things mentioned above instead of having to rehab.
A: Per Pro Football Focus, Jimmy Garoppolo has five batted passes in six games and Aidan O’Connell has three in four, so they’re averaging less than one per game. That is one of the highest rates in the NFL, but I wouldn’t be terribly concerned about one incompletion per game.
Passes getting batted at the line of scrimmage can happen for a lot of different reasons, some of which are out of the quarterback’s control. For example, if a quick pass is called and the defensive lineman sniffs it out and gets his hands up in time, there’s not much the quarterback can do differently.
With O’Connell, his three batted passes have come against the Chargers and Jets, the two best defensive lines he’s faced, so again, it’s not something I would be too worried about right now.
A: Hardegree has been calling more zone runs which requires patience from running backs and that’s the type of back Jacobs is. I actually think he’s been more decisive lately and Marcus Johnson talked about this on the ‘Tape Don’t Lie’ film review of the Jets game (video below). I don’t know what timeframe “lately” specifically is, but Jacobs’ best games of the season come in the last two weeks so I can’t say I agree with the statement that he’s been indecisive.
That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. Thank you all for submitting questions and, as your weekly reminder, if you’d like to have your questions answered in a future column, tweet them at me, @MHolder95, email them to SBPQuestions1@gmail.com or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will publish on Thursdays throughout the season.