Defense may win championships, but for the Raiders, they needed defense to just get a win, period.
With Oakland's passing game able to muster a touchdown on just 2.8% of dropbacks (30th in the NFL), coupled with the leagues' 31st-ranked rushing attack, even with the return of Maurice-Jones Drew - who was able to fully participate at Thursday's session - the Raiders offense on paper doesn't seem like it can be relied on to win games.
After last Sunday's loss to the Patriots, where they were able to hold Tom Brady et al. to just 16 points, it would be understandable if the Raiders' D felt frustrated that the other side of the ball couldn't close the deal. First round pick Khalil Mack, though, take a different view.
"The loss is on the defense", responded Mack after Thursday's practice when asked about the offense's lack of production against the Patriots. "We want to shut teams out, we want to allow no points to make things easier for the offense. If we can do that, then the offense will be satisfied."
Speaking with some of the other Raiders defenders, there is a sense of change for the better, that last Sunday's performance is a sign of positive things to come. "Last week can be a build block for us," Justin Tuck claimed at his post-practice press conference, "[but] we could have played a lot better than we did". Tuck feels that they'll get a chance to prove that against the Dolphins: "[The Miami] offense do a lot of similar things to what the Patriots did, so the familiarity is there. Hopefully we can go out there and have the enthusiastic play we had last week and build off of it."
Carlos Rogers, who is on his second trip to London in two seasons after playing in the International Series last year with the 49ers, offered an explanation as to why the Raiders were able to put on a much better performance last week. "We had a long talk [with head coach Dennis Allen], he sat some of the veteran guys down and had a meeting. He got his points across to us veterans, we got it across to everyone else and we just took that to the field."
The difference was palpable to Rogers. "I felt real good about [how the defense played]. Throughout the whole game, I thought we were going to win... we mixed up our calls, we got ourselves sacking Tom Brady, got off the field on third down... guys were running around happy and celebrating, and I think if we continue to play like that, we're going to win a lot of games."
One big difference in Oakland, as pointed out expertly by SB Nation's Steve White, was their more frequent deployment of 3-4 fronts against the Patriots. While still nominally a 4-3, the Dolphins need to be aware that they need to make sure they gameplan for different defensive looks. "It's not a 3-4, but its a more multiple "everyone standing up" type of deal," Mack explained. "It's something we're comfortable with, and we'll continue to do it from here on out."
One thing that the defense will have to deal with is the Dolphins' no-huddle offense, but Justin Tuck feels confident in the keys to countering Miami's schemes. "You can't run up-tempo if you're not getting big plays and not getting first downs. We've got to make sure we start fast and get them on second-and-long, third-and-long situations - that's when you see the up-tempo going away."
The defense may be feeling good about their own play, but they aren't taking the Dolphins any less seriously, knowing full well that there is a lot riding on the outcome of Sunday's game - including their coach's position with the franchise. When asked if he felt any added pressure about Allen's potentially shaky position with the team, he responded that "as individuals, you have to put forward your best effort, not even to help your coach but to help yourself - if the coach goes down, the owner's going to look at the players too... Unfortunate things happen you can't help, but I just want a win - I don't think it helps in this sport to fire a coach, especially early in the season."
Miami have been facing their own stability issues, with Coach Philbin refusing to confirm Ryan Tannehill's position as starter earlier on in the week. For Mack, Ryan Tannehill presents some issues - "he can move around to put them in a position to win" - but Rogers isn't concerned about who will be under center for the Dolphins.
"It's about going out there Sunday and performing no matter who the quarterback is," said the cornerback. "They're going to run the same routes, they're going to have the same offensive line, receivers, running backs... they're still going to run the same stuff so we're going to take advantage of that. I don't want to get into what the [Tannehill]'s doing, if he's good or bad, but they say he's still the starting quarterback of that team so obviously there's not a backup who they trust."
[Editor's Note: Gur Samuel is a writer for Bucs Nation, SB Nation's Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog. He lives in the United Kingdom and will be covering the International Series matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders from the Dolphins perspective for us throughout the week. You can follow Samuel on Twitter @GurSamuel.]