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Raiders vs. Dolphins Week 11: Insider look at Las Vegas’ coaching changes, Aidan O’Connell, run defense

The Miami Dolphins host the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, getting back on the field after their bye week. To get a closer look at the Raiders, we turned to Silver and Black Pride.

Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins host the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday as Week 11 of the 2023 NFL season continues. Miami is coming off their bye week, having an extra week to rest, recover, and prepare for this game. What should they expect from an unfamiliar AFC West opponent?

The Raiders have made some major changes over the past couple of weeks, including firing head coach Josh McDaniels and replacing him with interim head coach Antonio Pierce and benching quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in favor of rookie Aidan O’Connell. The Dolphins have not faced the Raiders since 2021 and have only faced off against the Oakland/Las Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas franchise 37 times in the history of both clubs. Who are the Raiders?

We get a closer look at Las Vegas with some help from SB Nation’s Raiders team site, Silver and Black Pride. Matt Holder was kind enough to sit down to answer my questions about the Raiders ahead of Sunday’s game.

You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:

Antonio Pierce has led the Raiders to two straight wins to start his role as the interim head coach. What went so wrong with Josh McDaniels and what has changed under Pierce?

New York Jets v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I think the biggest difference is that Pierce is a much better leader and a people person. A lack of interpersonal skills is part of what did McDaniels in with the Broncos and it sounds like it was more of the same with the Raiders. He was very stuck in his ways and didn’t listen to the players so it was almost impossible for him get get buy-in from the team. With Pierce though, there’s a noticeably different energy in the locker room and the players seem much more motivated.

Schematically, McDaniels was stubborn as well. He continued to run the same playbook as if Tom Brady was his quarterback and refused to change. One of the first things interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree did when he took over was ask the players what they liked to run, and he has done a great job of implementing those suggestions. He also has broken a lot of tendacies and been more creative to prevent the Raiders’ offense from being as predictable as they were with McDaniels.

Overall, the players feel like they have a voice on the team now and are being heard, which is making a big difference on the field.

Another change for the Raiders this year is the move to fourth-round draft pick Aidan O’Connell as the team’s starting quarterback, effectively ending the Jimmy Garoppolo era in Las Vegas. Who is O’Connell, what should we expect from him this weekend, and what went wrong with Garoppolo?

Las Vegas Raiders v Detroit Lions Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

We’re still kind of figuring out who O’Connell is but so far, he’s been decisive with the ball and pretty accurate on short to intermediate throws. He will occasionally drop a deep bomb down the field to catch the defense sleeping, but his game is more rooted in that 10-19-yard window. Of course, O’Connell has had a few rookie mistakes, but his resiliency and ability to fight through adversity have been impressive for a young quarterback.

As for Garoppolo, he was pretty much the exact opposite of what I just described. He would get happy feet in the pocket if his first read wasn’t open and checked the ball down quickly, missing opportunities to create explosive plays. Defenses started loading up the box knowing that Jimmy G couldn’t beat them, which crippled the Raiders’ rushing attack and offense as a whole. It felt like every negative trait Garoppolo had in San Francisco got worse or exposed further in Las Vegas and the positive reps were few and far between.

The Raiders are eighth in the league against the pass this year, but are 29th against the run. What has caused this drastic difference in defensive success?

Las Vegas Raiders v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Well, I think part of it has to do with the fact that the Raiders have been trailing for most of the year, so opponents have been running the ball more and throwing less late in games. But, Las Vegas’ defense is also built to defend the passing game. They have a lot of converted safeties at linebacker and the defensive line only has two consistent run defenders; Maxx Crosby and former Dolphin John Jenkins.

Especially at defensive tackle, Jenkins is the only one who routinely holds his ground and plugs up gaps against the run. Guys like Jerry Tillery, Bilal Nichols and another former Dolphin Adam Butler, are better pass-rushers than run defenders and they really struggle to hold up against double teams.

Schematically, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham runs a bend but don’t break type of defense too, which can lead to more rushing yards between the 20s. However, Miami’s explosive offense will test that this week.

With the two wins over the last two weeks, the Raiders have jumped up to .500 on the season and are suddenly in the playoff picture. Is it realistic that the Raiders could make the playoffs this year or do you think they fall back down the standings after the coaching-change honeymoon ends?

New York Jets v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I’d like to say it’s realistic, but in reality, it’s more hopeful. Don’t get me wrong, the Raiders are playing inspired football under Pierce, but their two wins have come against two bad New York teams. Starting this week, their schedule stiffens up with the trip to Miami and then they host the Chiefs before having a Week 13 bye. That will be the true test and if Las Vegas can steal one of those two games, then I think we can say they have a legit shot at snagging a wild card spot.

However, they do have another tough stretch after the bye where they play the Vikings—which is suddenly a good team again—and then have a quick turnaround with the Chargers on Thursday Night Football followed by a trip to Kansas City on Christmas Day. The Raiders do get to end with two win-able matchups against the Colts and Broncos, but their playoff hopes will be long gone by then if they can’t at least tread water during those stretches mentioned above.

The Dolphins opened as 10-point favorites for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the line continuing to increase, moving up to 13.5 points as the week has progressed. That feels like a big number, especially with the Raiders looking better over the last couple of weeks. Do you think a double-digit spread is accurate in this game, or are you anticipating a much closer game?

New York Jets v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to expect from the Raiders this Sunday. They have been playing much better recently to make me think they can keep it close, but the Dolphins are a different animal (figurately, of course) with how explosive their offense is. So, I can also see the game being close for three quarters and then Miami breaks off a big play in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.

Plus, the other thing that weighs on my mind is the last time Las Vegas had a 10:00 a.m. PT kickoff was Week 7 when they got blown out by the Bears. Granted, that was the McDaniels-led team with Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback, but it can’t be ignored that the defense was awful that afternoon too. And again, the Dolphins are a much better team than the Bears and a completely different animal (literally and figuratively this time).

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