The last time the Dolphins played a regular season game on their home field, they were upsetting the New York Jets, and knocking them out of any potential playoff scenario that they could have backed their way into. With what currently feels like a COMPLETELY different Dolphins team, how long ago does that feel now? After about a 10 month hiatus, the Dolphins return to battle at Sun Life Stadium, this time opening up their home opener against Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders.
After a daunting Week 1 task against a stifling Texans team, Miami has a more reasonable chance against in this matchup, facing Oakland in the Miami heat. While Oakland is in fact 3 point favorites, Miami has a few keys to victory for picking up their first victory of the year.
-Tire Out the Raiders
Oakland just played on the West Coast on Monday Night, losing a tough battle against division rival San Diego. Now they travel across country on a short week to play in the stifling Miami heat. Miami needs to use this to their advantage. Gone is the excuse of fatigue and lack of conditioning due to a short season, something that crushed Miami in their home opener last year against New England. Look for the Dolphins to use creative play calling and develop a tough ground game to physically and mentally break down the opponent.
We all know the speed that Oakland posseses on the both sides of the ball, so using size and strength may work best. Unfortunately the status of Daniel Thomas remains in question for this week's game (concussion), but I wouldn't be surprised if Oakland gets familiarized with the "Thunderball" (and new fan favorite), big Javorskie Lane, early and often.
Last week's key was to control the ground game and keep Houston's offense OFF the field. Honestly, they were doing a good job at this until turnovers put them in a hole and made them abandon their ground game sooner than they wanted to. If they can keep the game from turning into a blowout, Miami should be able to rely more on the running game. This is turn will allow Tannehill to be less pressured and prevent trying to convert 3rd and long's to Legedu Nannee. The Dolphins don't have to get out to a commanding lead, but they need to keep their foot on the petal the entire game. If they can tire out Oakland, they have a distinct advantage in this game.
- Limit/Learn from Turnovers
Obviously for a young team with a new coach and a rookie QB, turnovers can make or break an entire game. The thing that hurt about the game in Houston was that the Dolphins started with one turnover that seemed to start a chain reaction of sloppy play for the remainder of the game. Miami finished the game with 3 Tannehill interceptions and a fumble from Daniel Thomas after a bone jarring hit.
Let's face the facts… Miami will commit more turnovers this year. Tannehill will throw more interceptions and players will lose the ball. The goal remains if Miami can do things to not only limit these turnovers, but also to learn from them. For example, there will be no excuse if Miami continues to be haunted by batted balls that lead to INT’s, and this goes for players and coaches alike. Just as Ryan Tannehill needs to gain comfort in the pocket and learn to prevent "telegraphing" passes, and our offensive line needs to keep defenders hands’ down, it is also on the coaching staff to disguise plays better and not refer back to the "predictable Henning offensive playcall" that has plagued us in the past.
In fact, in a great post by CT1361, he stated that the coaching was most likely the main cause of so many deflected passes at the line last week. Because he can explain it better than I can, feel free to read more about his analysis here. Miami needs to shake off turnovers if they do happen- and when they happen to force any, than they will need to capitalize. This is not rocket science, it’s Football 101. As of now Miami is -4 in the turnover department, and that will need to change.
-Take Away the Big Play
The late, great Al Davis loved his speed, and we can see that with one look at Oakland’s roster. They have one of the fastest teams in the league, and one missed tackle or one lapse in coverage can give up a huge momentum-swinging play. Guys like Darren McFadden and Darius Heywood-Bey are some of the quickest guys at their position.
Miami may have to play conservative at times on defense, and not take risks. Our safeties have known to get caught out of their zones, and Carson Palmer can prey on secondaries by making smart reads and tossing the long ball. Miami should win the battle of the line of scrimmage and we will need Dansby, Burnett and Misi to continue to tackle well; the last thing we want is McFadden in a foot race with our safeties. Corners can play their game, but we will need to eliminate any defensive lapses from Rashad Jones or Chris Clemons this week to prevent big plays. If I am defensive coordinator, Kevin Coyle, I am working with these guys all week.
-Beat Them at Their Own Game
I think Miami has a chance to possibly make a few big plays this week. First of all, field position won’t be as big of a concern this week due to the fact that their kicker, Sebastion Janikowski, can put points on the board from as far as midfield.
However their long snapper position is a fiasco, contributing to a few turnovers that was a big help to San Diego on Monday night. A blocked punt or another glorius return from Marcus Thigpen can be a lot more helpful to the Dolphins than it was last week.
To reiterate on the first point, a great ground and pound attack will help to tire out their defense and make them more susceptible to the playaction pass. Minus all-pro safety, Tyvon Branch, the Raiders have plenty of "beatable" guys in their secondary as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hartline, Armstrong or even Bess gets a shot as a deep ball or two this week. Coordinator Mike Sherman will have to do his part to keep their defenses on their toes and Tannehill should get some opportunities to show off the long ball for the ladies (sorry Lauren!).
Overall, this should be a much closer game, so look for Miami to try and make a statement at home after a tough opening day loss. Miami not only has home-field advantage but catches Oakland on a short week, and usually fairs well against them. I think it will come down to a FG; if Miami can address the keys above than I believe they pick up their first win of the year.