It's again time to look ahead and turn our attention to Sunday's game at home against the Raiders. This is a clear "must-win" game for the Dolphins if they want to continue to make an improbable push for the playoffs.
Can the Dolphins avoid the classic pitfalls of a "trap game"?
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Dolphins are in playoff contention in the middle of November. And with that comes more pressure - and also more challenges.
Sunday represents a challenge that this team is yet to face this season. This game against the 2-7 Raiders is the perfect definition of a trap game. The Patriots come to Miami the following week in a game that - depending on the outcome of this week's games - could very well be described as the biggest game of the past 5 years for the Dolphins. However, the game will not mean nearly as much if the Dolphins can't knock off a Raiders team that has been outscored by an average of 11.6 points per game in 2008.
I wouldn't think this coaching staff would allow their players to even think about looking ahead, but when you have a team like the Dolphins - a team that is learning to win - you can never be certain how they'll react in these kinds of situations.
Will the Dolphins finally win a game that they are "expected" to win without having it come down to the final minutes?
This question kind of falls in line with the first one, but there is one specific difference. Forgetting about the perils of a "trap game" for a second, Sunday's game against the Raiders also represents one of those games that many people - both fans and experts - expect Miami to win...easily. The Dolphins are currently 10.5 point favorites - even a bigger favorite than they were last week against the Seattle.
Here's an interesting stat. The Dolphins have failed to cover the Vegas point spread in the last 6 games in which they were favorites - including last week's tight victory over the Seahawks. Now I know that we, as fans, have to be cautious with our optimism because of last season's monumental disaster and how this year was supposed to just be a simple rebuilding year. But there comes a point in time when we must begin looking beyond what this team was and accept what it is - and the pressures/expectations that come with that.
So here's my point: wouldn't it be nice to win comfortably in a game in which the Dolphins are 10 point favorites?
What's next for the Wildcat?
So who was it that said the Wildcat was dead? And wasn't it Warren Sapp who said it's just a "gimmick"?
When will everyone finally understand that the Wildcat is not a gimmick - but is simply another formation that the Dolphins use a handful of times per game? I'm sorry, but gimmicks don't pick up 367 yards on just 48 plays - an average of 7.65 yards per play. And gimmick plays certainly don't account for 8 touchdowns on 48 plays.
And just think about what we saw last week. Rather than having Ricky Williams come in motion before the snap, the Dolphins lined him up on one side of Ronnie Brown while Patrick Cobbs lined up on the other. Three running backs in the backfield! Craziness!! Dare I say "wishbone-esque"? The result was 82 yards on 7 plays, including 2 touchdowns.
So what will happen next? Will any new wrinkles be used this week? Are the new, unseen wrinkles of the Wildcat being saved for next week against New England? I honestly have no idea what to expect next from this formation - and I love it!
Will Miami's defense put forth a dominating performance against a bad Oakland offense?
Here are some of the facts. Whichever QB starts for the Raiders - they both stink. While the presence of Javon Walker scares me a little bit, the Raiders receivers - as a whole - don't worry me. The Raiders could be onto their 3rd different play caller of the season on Sunday. Darren McFadden - the only offensive player that is a concern to me - is banged up with a turf toe injury and hasn't played since October 19. So even if he does play, he won't be fully healthy and he'll be rusty.
The Raiders have averaged just 190 yards of total offense in their last 3 games - including just a 77 yard effort against Atlanta's 23rd ranked defense. And in those 3 games, the Raiders have scored just 16 points combined. For the season, the Raiders are just 29th in total offense (263.6 ypg), 31st in yards per play (4.5), 31st in 1st downs per game (13.2), and dead last in points per game (12.6).
Wouldn't it be nice for the Dolphins to come out defensively and just put a beat-down on the Raiders? A dominant defensive performance not only helps the Dolphins win this game, but would also build their confidence even more heading into game at home against the Pats the following week.
Can Joey Porter begin a late-season surge to reach 20+ sacks and help lead this team into the playoffs?
Yes, this question does kind of coincide with the above question. But I think Joey deserves his own paragraph or two. We know he leads the league with 12 sacks, but has indeed fallen off the record-setting pace he was once on. Now he's on pace for only 21 sacks. Only? Did I really just say "only"? Damn - I guess Joey set the bar too high with the kind of success he had in through the first 7 games of the year.
But the fact is that his play is really what makes this Miami defense so good at times. But over the past 2 games, Porter has just 1.5 sacks. Luckily for both Porter and for the team, Joey is going to have some opportunities in the coming weeks to really get after the QB and not only threaten the single-season sack record, but more importantly, lead this team on a playoff push.
Of Miami's final 7 opponents, 6 of them (all but the Jets) rank in the top 10 for most sacks allowed. That obviously includes Oakland, who ranks 7th with 27 sacks allowed (3 per game).
You think Peezy is salivating?
So there you have it. As always, thoughts below...