As excitement and anticipation around another prime time game grows for fans of the Miami Dolphins, fans of other teams around the NFL scream, “why?”
Why must we sit through another nationally televised game featuring the league’s worst offense, fresh off a 40-0 thrashing via the Baltimore Ravens last week on Thursday Night Football?
Well guess what, football fans, you get the opportunity to see if Jay Cutler can get the offense on track on both Sunday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders this week and on Monday Night Football against the Carolina Panthers in week 10.
So sit back, and at the very least, soak in the sideshow the Dolphins often provide even if the game is a blowout. Google search Kiko Alonso hit on Joe Flacco and Ndamukong Suh grabs Ryan Mallett’s neck if this isn’t making sense to you.
With the Raiders losing against the Buffalo Bills last week they’re now 3-5 on the season and have shown over the last couple of years to be week-to-week when it comes to productivity on the offensive side of the ball. In what’s quickly becoming must-win season for both of these teams, here are five players likely to play a large role in determining the outcome of Sunday night’s game.
Kenyan Drake/Damian Williams
With the trade of Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the week, both Drake and Williams will have to combine to get the job done on the ground to replace Miami’s most natural ball carrier.
The one advantage of using Drake and Williams to replace Ajayi is the element they add as pass catchers, which Ajayi struggled with during his time in Miami. If the Dolphins change their offensive philosophy a bit with the departure of Ajayi, it could result in added targets through the air to the team’s running backs.
It would be wise for Miami to not abandon the run just because they traded away the player who accounted for 82 percent of the team’s carries so far in 2017 as the Raiders rank just 22nd in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. However, it’s difficult to determine how much stock to put into that stat as Baltimore was also near the bottom of the league last week in rushing yards allowed to opposing teams when Miami managed just 45 yards on the ground.
Although he’ll rush the passer from both sides of the line, James is likely to draw the assignment of blocking Khalil Mack the majority of the time on Sunday night as he primarily lines up against the right tackle.
An elite pass rusher with his unique ability to beat opposing team’s tackles with both speed and power, Mack is likely to be the primary focus when it comes to game planning against Oakland’s defense. This will inevitably lead to tight ends and running backs assisting both James and Laremy Tunsil, which didn’t work out very well last week against Baltimore when the Ravens sacked Matt Moore three times while applying consistent pressure throughout the game.
Sitting on four and half sacks so far this season – which is low for Mack’s standards – it’s just a matter of time before the sacks start coming in bunches as they did in a 2015 game against Denver when he dominated the Broncos’ offensive line, finishing the game with five sacks.
Despite being beat for a touchdown the last two week, Tankersley has played unexpectedly well since entering the starting lineup just four weeks into the season after being the 16th cornerback selected in last year’s draft.
This week is sure to be a tough test as Tankersley and the Dolphins’ defense face the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. While this wide receiver duo has an abundance of talent, they’ve been inconsistent in regards to production in 2017 with half of Crabtree’s touchdowns coming in one game against the Jets while two of Cooper’s three touchdowns on the season came in his 11 catch, 210-yard performance in a 31-30 win against the Chiefs.
Back from his one-game suspension for making contact with an official, Lynch will be looking to get going in his comeback after a year away from football as he hasn’t topped 70 rushing yards since week one.
Running the ball against Miami has been a tough task for most teams in 2017 until last week when Alex Collins of the Ravens carried the ball 18 times for 113 yards.
While it’s unlikely the Raiders lean on Lynch to carry the offense in this game, it will be crucial for Miami to shut him down early to attempt to make Oakland as one-dimensional as possible as the game progresses. If the Raiders can remain balanced on offense as the Ravens were last week, it could be another long and frustrating day for the Dolphins’ defense.
Cheating again this week as this isn’t a specific player, but the entire Raiders secondary will be key to this game, especially since Ajayi is no longer the primary focus on Miami’s offense.
With DeVante Parker expected back for the game against Oakland, Miami will finally have its trio of wide receivers healthy and on the field for the first time since the beginning of week seven against the Jets.
Sunday night’s game may be an opportune time for the Raiders to get their first interception of the season, as they’re the only team in the NFL without an interception in 2017.