The first game of the 2014 International Series for the NFL features the Oakland Raiders "hosting" the Miami Dolphins in London's Wembley Stadium. To get a closer look at the Raiders, we asked five questions to Marcus Allen Krause of SB Nation's Silver And Black Pride.
Kevin Nogle, The Phinsider (KN): The Raiders' linebacking corps has been decimated by injuries recently, including Sio Moore, Nick Roach, and Miles Burris. Will any of them be able to play? If not, how will the linebackers look on Sunday, and is there any confidence in the group right now?
Marcus Allen Krause, Silver and Black Pride (MK): Unfortunately for the Raiders, it does not look like any of those three players will end up playing, though that is not confirmed yet. If not that means that the Raiders starting linebackers are likely to be Khalil Mack, Kaluka Maiava and Bojay Filimoeatu. There also will be times where DE Lamarr Woodley will line up as an OLB too though, which is the position he played for most of his career in Pittsburgh.
Bojay is the weakest link out of that group, he is an UDFA that was elevated from the practice squad becaues of injuries. As for Maiava, we haven't seen much of him because he has been battling injuries ever since he became a Raider. He is better than Burris against the run, but Miles Burris has been pretty awful in that area so that is not saying much. When Kaluka has been on the field he has contributed admirably so it is not a sky is falling situation that he is likely to start.
Khalil Mack is a rock, there is every reason to be confident and excited about his play. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the 3rd rated 3-4 OLB in the NFL according to their grading (+9.2 grade overall) and that is saying a lot. He has been getting better every game, even though he hasn't had his first sack yet. Mack will definitely be a handful coming off the edge for your offensive line.
KN: How is Derek Carr developing, and what should we expect from the rookie?
MK: Carr has gotten better in every game so far and that is the most you can ask for a rookie QB starting on a team that hasn't played well. He is capable of making every throw an NFL QB needs to make, and he has shown a knack for the back shoulder throw. He has even the cynics in the Raider Nation excited for his future.
As for what to expect from him in this game, I would say expect some good and some bad from him. He has been avoiding the middle of the field quite a bit so far and I would expect that to continue. Despite that he has spread the ball well connecting with 9 different receivers on 2 out of the 3 games played so far, and he has surprising athleticism if you give him the edge.
Carr has had some trouble against blitzes, though in the previous game against the Patriots he showed much improvement in that regard. I would expect the Dolphins to try and exploit that and test him with their pass rush so it will be interesting to see how he responds to it. He is accurate and has a hell of an arm so the Dolphins cornerbacks need to be ready if their pass rush does not get the job done.
KN: Oakland's defense has been stout against the pass, put is being gashed on the ground so far this year (183.3 yards per game through the air this year, 4th in the league; 158.7 yards per game on the ground, 31st). Does this go back to the linebacker injuries? Is it a defensive line issue? What's working in the passing defense that is not working in run stopping?
MK: Well, first the numbers are a little misleading. The passing numbers are lower because the rushing numbers are higher. In the first two games the teams both relied on their rushing attacks because it was working so well. Why bother passing if you can run at will?
The issues they had in those first two games though seemed like an entire team failure. The defensive line was not able to hold their assignments and the offensive lines were opening up holes regularly, while the linebackers were then missing tackles as well. The Safeties had the most tackles and that is never a good sign.
With that being said, the Raiders defense really stepped up against the rush with the Patriots. They held the Patriots to just 76 total rushing yards and a measly 2.4 yards per rushing play. The first two games were monstrosities against the run, but they really seemed to have started to gel as a unit in the New England game.
KN: Maurice Jones-Drew declared he's "ready to roll" (and "part Wolverine") after practicing on Thursday, his first full practice since suffering a hand injury in Week 1. Will he be a factor this week, and how will the Raiders split playing time between MJD and Darren McFadden?
MK: The Raiders definitely are hoping MJD will make a difference, because they have been absolutely terrible in the running game so far this year averaging just 64.3 yards per game. Only one of the three games had an active Jones-Drew, but that was the Jets game where he only had 9 carries for 11 yards. That was more indicative of the talented Jets D-Line than what MJD is capable of though, at least that is what Raiders fans are hoping.
As for the playing time split, that really depends on how healthy MJD really is. Ideally they were hoping for MJD to get more carries, but it is hard to say given the limited time they were both available for the Raiders. MJD definitely got more carries in the only game he has played so far carrying 9 times to Darren McFadden's 4, but take that with a grain of salt considering the utter domination of the Jets against the rush in that game.
KN: Joe Philbin's job is in jeopardy this year if Miami is not a winning team and is not making a playoff push at the end of the year. Dennis Allen, meanwhile, appears to be destined to be out of a job at some point this year. Is there anything that can realistically keep Allen employed, or is he a lame duck coach at this point? Is former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano in position to assume the interim tag if Allen is fired in season?
If Dennis Allen were to be fired midseason there is little doubt that Tony Sparano would be tagged as the interim head coach. He is the member of the coaching staff that has the most experience at being a head coach, and he has a far better record (29-32) as a head coach than Dennis Allen (8-27) does so far.
It is hard not to consider Dennis Allen a lame duck coach right now. He does not have great support from the fanbase and any coach with a record as bad as his at 8-27 should consider their job to be in jeopardy. A blow out loss to the Dolphins this week could be the end of his coaching the Oakland Raiders.
With that being said, he definitely showed improvement with the team against the Patriots and that has lessened some of the pressure on him, though he still has lost 9 straight games going back to last season. If he makes it through the bye week as the coach then he likely will be allowed to finish the season or at least most of it though.
Really the only thing that is going to help Dennis Allen now is winning. If he doesn't get a few wins under his belt then he will be gone. It is hard to picture that happening with the schedule the Raiders have and most likely he will not be coaching the Raiders next season.
A big thank you to Krause for taking the time to give us a look at the Raiders. You can check out my answers to his five questions about the Dolphins here. You can follow Silver and Black Pride on Twitter @SilverAndBlackP and Krause at @krause_marcus.