Oakland Raiders (1-2) at Miami Dolphins (0-3)
This week's going to be a little different in terms of the postings here on the site because I'll be flying down to Miami on Friday for the game and won't be back home until the early evening on Monday. Because of this, the preview posts have been combined into one post and the open game thread will be posted on Friday morning before I head to the airport. Then the post-game thread that is usually done on Sunday night will be held off until Monday night. What this means is that I'll need all you loyal readers to fill in the blanks from Friday until Monday. Start diaries, make comments, and get involved! Onto the preview:
Dolphins Offense vs Raiders Defense
Well last week we saw Cam Cameron hold true to his word. He said it was going to be Ronnie's day and it was Ronnie's day. And, man, did he come through with a big time performance. Now I know everyone says it was a bad rush defense, but when you consider Ronnie averaged 4.8 yards per carry against a team that had been only giving up 3.5 yards per carry in the first two games, you have to be somewhat impressed. That brings me to the Raiders, who are currently ranked 29th in the league in opponents' yards per carry, giving up 4.8 yards per attempt. That's an insanely high number. So again, I expect the gameplan to be to run the ball with Ronnie early and often. He'll be the key to this game, as it isn't the best idea to best 40 times against this Raiders' secondary.
The Raiders' secondary has some real playmakers in it. Corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Fabian Washington are fast and can make plays on the ball once it's in the air. Second-year safety Michael Huff is a star in the making. He can make plays in run support, blitz, or drop back in coverage. He's one of those safeties that aren't a liability in coverage, either. So Ronnie's having success on the ground is paramount.
When the ball does go in the air, though, there are some things to be considered. First, like the Dolphins, the Raiders are having some trouble getting pressure on the quarterback. They've only recorded 5 sacks in the first 3 games and, like the Jets, often don't get too many hurries on the opposing QB. This means that the Raiders are likely to blitz a lot. Because of this, you'll likely see a lot of the Trent Green patented quick pass, whether it's a slant or a hitch. You're also going to see the Dolphins run some more screen passes to Brown. These plays worked perfectly last week and should Oakland look to bring pressure a lot, a screen pass or two could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Even though the pass defense is struggling in terms of yards allowed per game, throwing too often can be a huge mistake. They rank 2nd in the NFL in interceptions, already picking off 6 passes in 3 games. Their linebackers are athletic and make plays in the passing game, while their defensive backs aren't afraid to take chances. This propensity to take risks, though, does mean the Raiders are vulnerable to giving up the big play. But I think relying too much on the pass in this game could be a devastating mistake by Cam and the Dolphins. Let Ronnie run, use screens and quick passes, and use the play-action pass to draw in the defense. That's my formula for success on Sunday.
Raiders Offense vs Dolphins Defense
Well it's the 4th game of the season and, at 0-3, is a fairly important game to win if the Dolphins have any aspirations at all, such as improving on last year's win total. For that to happen, this defense has got to finally step up and play like we all know it can. No more excuses. No more sugar-coating it. Guys like Jason Taylor and Joey Porter need to put it all out there on the line on Sunday. It's time to play like the pro-bowlers these guys are. And this is regardless of if Zach Thomas plays, though he did practice on Wednesday and it seems as though he has a good chance of playing.
Of course, Thomas's return would be great considering the Dolphins must shut down the 3rd ranking rushing attack in the NFL. LaMont Jordan is having the kind of season many thought he would have last year. He's gone over 120 yards rushing in each if the last 2 games after picking up 159 total yards in week one. He's running with speed and power as well as being a force out of the backfield with 11 catches. The strength and power that he runs with is going to be a problem for this defense is they continue to miss tackles. Through the first 3 games, there have been countless times that Dolphin defenders have missed tackles that allowed the offense to gain sone extra yardage. This has to end now or else Jordan is going to easily run for 120+.
Stopping the run is also imperative for the Dolphins because it would force the Raiders to throw the ball often, which is what you want to do. With Daunte Culpepper in there at QB, the Dolphins will have their fair share of opportunities to make plays. The Raiders are tied for 26th in the league in sacks allowed (9) and we're all aware of the tendency Daunte has of throwing interceptions. So clearly the Dolphins need to attack the pass rusher, getting some damn pressure in the QB and forcing him to make some bad decisions. Of course, if this front 7 continues to struggle getting to the quarterback, this could be a long day defensively.
Why could it be a long day? It's because the Raiders have some playmakers in the passing game. On the outside, the Raiders have two explosive receivers in Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter. Both are fast and both are 6'2 and will be mismatches for the Dolphin cornerbacks. What this means is that Renaldo Hill and new safety Travis Daniels are going to have to be on top of their game, not allowing one of those 2 receivers to get behind the defense too often. However, they can't forget about rookie tight end Zach Miller. Miller only has 7 catches for 54 yards this season, but he's 6'5, 255 and can run. He's going to develop into a fine receiving tight end in this league and he needs to be accounted for on every play. He's the type of tight end you'll forget about until he makes a big play either in the redzone or on a crucial 3rd down play.
When you look at this game on paper, it looks fairly even, which makes this an important game for the Dolphins to win. In each of their first 3 games, they played teams who were, on paper, better than they are. Now it's time to start getting on the right track.