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Dolphins vs Raiders: Matchups and keys to victory

First of all, I hope you all had an excellent Thanksgiving.

On Sunday, the Dolphins will travel across the country to take on the Raiders - whom the Dolphins have defeated in seven of their past eight regular season meetings. Coincidentally, that one loss was a game in Miami that I was in attendance for, and is infamously known around these parts as the "Daunte Culpepper game."

But Sunday's game is really the first of six consecutive "playoff games" for the Dolphins. If this team wants to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive, they probably have to win each of these final six.


Darren McFadden & Michael Bush vs Dolphins front seven

Whether you want to highlight the backs (as I did above) or Oakland's offensive line, there's no question as to how this Oakland offense has been able to move the football in 2010. The Raiders are 2nd in the NFL in rushing, averaging 152 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry. They are headed by McFadden, who is finally living up to his pre-draft hype. He's 12th in the league in rushing yards (771) but has missed some two games with an injury. Based on rushing yards per game, though, McFadden ranks 4th in the league (96.4) - trailing only Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson.

Bush compliments McFadden well because of their differing running styles. The former Louisville star is a powerful 240+ pound back who can really wear down a defense. Combined, these two are among the best running back duos in the league.

The Dolphins have been up and down stopping the run this year. Their 20th in the league, allowing 112 yards rushing per game. But they are 8th in the league in yards allowed per carry (only 3.9). What this tells us is that opposing teams game plan to establish the run when they face Mike Nolan's defense. Only five teams have faced more rushing attempts than the Dolphins while only five teams have faced fewer pass attempts.

The Raiders will likely take to the ground on Sunday, relying on their running game and defense to defeat a beat up Dolphins team that has had trouble putting points up on the board.

Brian Hartline & Davone Bess vs Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson & Stanford Routt

Who will be under center for the Dolphins on Sunday? Chad Henne? Tyler Thigpen? We likely will not know until late Friday - but even then Tony Sprarano doesn't necessarily have to make the announcement. Regardless of who it is, the Dolphins are going to try to run the football against Oakland's 25th ranked rushing defense.

The Dolphins haven't been very effective running the football, though. And with a banged up offensive line, I'm not expecting too much out of Miami's running game on Sunday. That will mean that whoever is under center for the Dolphins will have to make some plays in the passing game - even if Brandon Marshall does not play (and it's not looking like he will).

Both Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have had good seasons as the complements to Marshall. But they are going to be asked to step up in a big way this week against Oakland's fourth ranked pass defense - a unit led by top five cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha - who is expected to play after missing last week's game. Neither Hartline or Bess match up favorably against these corners. However I do believe there will be opportunities to make plays. The Raiders like lining up their corners in one-on-one coverage. It'll be up to these receivers to beat their man and give Miami's quarterback - whoever it is - a place to go with the football.


1. Get Ronnie Brown involved in the offense early and often. With Brandon Marshall likely out, the most talented offensive player on the field this week for the Dolphins will be Brown. And the Raiders are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the run - allowing 128 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.

However, when I say to get Ronnie involved, I do not mean just on the ground. Brown is a very good receiver out of the backfield - though you wouldn't know that if you've only been following the Dolphins since this current regime took over in 2008. But if you can remember back to 2007, Ronnie was leading the league in yards from scrimmage through seven games before he went down with that season-ending knee injury - thanks in large part to having caught 39 passes out of the backfield over those seven games. In contrast, Brown hasn't caught more than 33 passes since than - and that was through a full 16 games back in 2008.

Believe it or not, Brown has not topped 100 yards from scrimmage in any game this season and is averaging just 13.7 touches per game. That has to change this weekend. You know he wants the ball more, especially with this being a contract year. He's as fresh as he ever has been this late in a season. It's time to lean on Ronnie and see what Brown can do for us.

2. Get pressure on Jason Campbell. There's no doubt that the Raiders will look to rely on the run against Miami's defense. But when they do drop back to pass, the Dolphins have got to get to Campbell. This is a defense that only sacked Jay Cutler three times a week ago. I say "only" because the Bears are tops in the league in sacks allowed. But the Dolphins gave Cutler way too much time in the pocket last week.

The Raiders, meanwhile, have allowed the third most sacks in the NFL. And Campbell is coming off of a game where he was sacked four times by the Steelers. There's no reason why Cameron Wake should not be living in Oakland's backfield on Sunday. That's the kind of effort the Dolphins will need from Wake - and the rest of their pass rushers - this week.