First off, I just want to say that - thanks to the Jets win over the Patriots - the Dolphins will be in 2nd place in the AFC East with a win on Sunday over the Raiders. And I also want to make one point. Why is it that when the Jets knock off the Pats, Adam Schefter asks Brett Favre what this win over New England means to their franchise - but when the Dolphins simply dominated the Pats, nobody asked what that win meant to the Fins? Eh - oh well.
Now continuing on with our preview of Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Raiders, let's turn our attention to 4 critical matchups that will - without question - make a huge impact on how this game plays out.
Raiders' RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven
Whether Darren McFadden plays or not, don't take Oakland's running game lightly. That would be a huge mistake. After all, I vividly remember Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan heading up a 299 yard effort last year against the Dolphins en route to an easy win in Miami. I was there. I got to witness the carnage first-hand. It wasn't pretty.
Consider this: the Raiders beat the Dolphins last year despite just passing for 75 yards. They scored 35 points despite completing just 5 passes. Sickening, right?
This season, the Raiders' running attack is just as dangerous - ranked 8th in the NFL in yards per game 9th in yards per carry. Justin Fargas is still there, Michael Bush is every bit as talented (if not more) than Jordan, and McFadden (if he plays) has big-time, game-breaking skill. And there's also a chance that the Dolphins could see the Wildcat formation used against them for the first time - especially if McFadden is able to play.
Of course, Miami's defense has been stout against the run this year, allowing just 93 yards per game (9th in league) and 3.7 yards per carry (8th). It'll be imperative that this Dolphin defensive line win at the point of attack and free up guys like Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele to make some big plays. And shutting down the run will be critical for the Dolphins because, well, JaMarcus Russell and Andrew Walter both stink.
Because of how nonthreatening Oakland's passing attack is, I think the Dolphins will stack 8 men in the box and will be able to contain the Raiders on the ground. Advantage: Dolphins
Ted Ginn vs Nnamdi Asomugha
The casual football fan might not realize this, but Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback in the NFL. Period. He's so good that teams won't even think about throwing to his side of the field. If I recall correctly, I believe I saw a stat earlier this week that said the receiver who Asomugha is defending has only been thrown to like 10 times. Last week, the Panthers took a shot throwing long to Steve Smith - who was covered by Asomugha - and it was picked off. In that game, Smith was held to 1 catch for 9 yards. A week before, the Falcons' top receiver - Roddy White - was held to just 54 yards.
But this doesn't mean that Ginn's likely matchup with Asomugha is irrelevant. Though I don't expect Teddy to have much of a day in terms of stats, he's going to play an important part in this game. I think we'll see Ginn run a lot of fly routes simply to take Asomugha out of the play and allow the other receivers, backs, and tight ends more opportunities to make plays on the opposite side and underneath. So while Ginn's stat line likely would be impressive (as a receiver), he'll still impact this game in other ways. Advantage: Raiders
Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams vs Raiders' Front Seven
Thanks in large part to having the best cornerback in the league, Oakland's pass defense really isn't that bad. They rank 13th in the NFL in yards allowed per game and 12th in opposing QBs' passer rating. However, Oakland's rush defense is dreadful. They rank 29th in the league in run defense, allowing 158 yards per game on the ground, and allow 4.6 yards per carry. Over their last 4 games, the Raiders have allowed 3 players to rush for over 100 yards. And last season when these 2 teams met, Ronnie Brown rushed for 134 yards on just 15 carries.
As for Miami, they were able to get their ground game back on track last week - thanks in large part to the new Wildcat twist and the re-energized legs of Ricky Williams. But against a team like Oakland, I wonder if the Dolphins plan on using the Wildcat a lot or will just simply pound the football the old-fashioned way. Either way, I get the feeling that Ronnie and Ricky will combine for another game of 140+ yards on the ground. Advantage: Dolphins
Zach Miller vs Channing Crowder/Akin Ayodele/Yeremiah Bell
Tight end Zach Miller, in just his 2nd season, is Oakland's leading receiver - with 25 catches for 363 yards. And whether it's JaMarcus Russell or Andrew Walter at QB, both are inexperienced. Who's an inexperienced QB's best friend? Their tight end.
At times this season, the Dolphins have struggled in defending the opposing team's tight ends. In week one, Chris Baker and Bubba Franks combined for 4 catches for 53 yards. Owen Daniels killed the Dolphins in Houston, hauling in 4 balls for 70 yards. And just last week. rookie John Carlson caught 5 passes for 54 yards. So how the Dolphins decide to defend Miller is going to be interesting. Will the coaching staff have faith to match up one of their linebackers one-on-one with Miller? Or will Yeremiah Bell be called upon, much like he was against Antonio Gates, to play a key role in defending the tight end?
I'm really not sure who has the advantage here, so I'll use the Raiders' two options at QB as the deciding factor. Advantage: Dolphins
As always, your thoughts below...