The Miami Dolphins host the Oakland Raiders this afternoon, with Miami looking to embrace their role as a spoiler. The Raiders come into this game leading the Denver Broncos by one game in the AFC West, and needing to continue their winning streak (currently at three games) to ensure they stay ahead of the Tim Tebow led Broncos.
Here are five things to watch for in today's game:
1. Carson Palmer. Palmer has really shaken off the rust after sitting out the first five weeks of the season, waiting for the Cincinnati Bengals to realize that trading the "semi-retired" quarterback made the most sense. Now that he is up to speed with Oakland, Palmer is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt - which places him only behind Aaron Rodgers this year. He has thrown six touchdowns, as compared to eight interceptions - but when you take into account that three of those interceptions came in the first game Palmer was with the team, and he wasn't prepared to play in the game with Kyle Boeller starting it, his numbers look better. The past four games, Palmer has thrown for 332 yards, 299 yards, 164 yards, and 301 yards. He's playing at a level we haven't seen from him in a while.
If the Dolphins are going to have success against the former Pro Bowler, they are going to have to get pressure on him, and get it on him early. The secondary has been on an interception binge lately, and that needs to continue this week. If Palmer is allowed to stand in the pocket and pick apart the defense, this game is going to be a long Sunday afternoon for Miami.
2. Miami's Secondary. Speaking of the interception binge, if the Dolphins' secondary can't continue to perform up to the standard of the last few weeks, this game will be ugly. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Sean Smith has allowed 61% of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed on the season. Meanwhile, Vontae Davis is even worse, allowing 62.2% completions. To give you a frame of reference, the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis is allowing just 42.1% completions, former Dolphin Jason Allen is allowing 51.9% completions, and Philadelphia Eagle Nnamdi Asomugha is at 54.5%. The Dolphins secondary has to perform better if they want to compete, let alone live up to Davis' preseason claim that he and Smith were the best tandem in the league.
3. The Punters. For the first 7 weeks of the NFL season, the Dolphins MVP was clearly punter Brandon Fields. If a poll were put up today, it's probable he would still get a good number of votes as the team's best player. What makes today's game more interesting is, Fields, who is averaging 47.8 yards per kick will be squaring off against the Pro Bowl voting leader for the conference, Shane Lechler. Lechler currently is averaging 51.1 yards per punt, the highest in the league. Both players are weapons for their teams, being able to change the field position game with their legs.
Both punters can blast a ball, with Lechler having an 80-yard kick this year (tops in the NFL), and Fields have a 70-yarder (7th in the league). Fields leads the AFC with 25 kicks inside the 20 (2nd in the league behind Seattle's Jon Ryan with 26), while Lechler is 10th with 19. Two of the NFL's best will be kicking on Sunday - and they should put on a show.
4. Jared Odrick. Odrick has turned on his game over the past few games, and he is currently second on the team in sacks (tied with Jason Taylor with 4). To make things more interesting, Odrick should be lining up on Oakland rookie left guard Stefan Wisniewski - his teammate at Penn State. The two practiced against each other during their college days, and the second year Odrick should be able to put that knowledge to use against the rookie.
5. Miami's Offensive Line. It seems like every week, the Dolphins' offensive line is a point of focus. This week, we again look at the offensive line, and worry. Not only do the Dolphins once again start Marc Colombo at right tackle, but now they are replacing Vernon Carey at right guard (Carey is officially listed as doubtful - but I wouldn't expect to see him today). Colombo has allowed 27 quarterback pressures, 8 hits, and 4 sacks this season. He is tied for the 7th most quarterback pressures, 2nd in hits, and 30th in sacks. Facing off against Richard Seymour this week could see that number continue to rise.
But, Colombo isn't the only one struggling this season. All Pro left tackle Jake Long has allowed 5 sacks this year, ranking as allowing the 19th most sacks in the NFL. He's also allowed six hits (11th most in the league), and 15 pressures(42nd in the NFL).
The Dolphins offensive line is a problem. While it has been better in the last couple of weeks, the line is still a problem - and one that could result in a bad day for quarterback Matt Moore.