It’s no secret that the Dolphins’ season will be on the line this Sunday. It will be for every week from here until they lose a game. With how this AFC playoff picture is shaping out, the Dolphins can’t afford to lose another game. A loss this Sunday won’t mathematically eliminate them, but it will realistically end their already slim chances of playing postseason football this season.
At the beginning of the year, I’m sure many fans circled this game as a likely Dolphins’ win. But what a difference a year makes. The Raiders are far from the league’s punching bag nowadays, and the Dolphins are far from the playoff caliber team that took the field just two weeks ago.
Dolphins running game (21st) vs. Raiders run defense (25th)
If the Dolphins can’t get their running game going against this subpar Raider run defense, there really is no hope for this offense. With a depleted pass protection, likely no Brandon Marshall, and an immobile Chad Henne likely being under center, this offense really doesn’t have the luxury of being one-dimensional.
If they can’t get Ronnie and Ricky going on the ground, this offense will continue to sputter out down the stretch. Getting center Joe Berger back in the starting lineup this week should help, but even when he was in there the Dolphins were very pedestrian on the ground. But against the Raiders front seven that is surrendering 4.6 yards per carry, we better see a commitment to the ground game on Sunday. Meaning, we shouldn’t see Dan Henning completely abandon Ronnie and Ricky if there are a few negative plays earlier on.
I would hope the Dolphins could have consistent success out of base formations, but if not, why not unleash the wildcat once again after seeing it’s rebirth a couple weeks ago against the Titans? Either way, if the Dolphins can’t prevent becoming pass happy against the dominate Raiders’ secondary they really don’t have much of a chance to get back over .500.
Raiders running game (2nd) vs. Dolphins run defense (20th)
Wondering how the Raiders have finally emerged as a quality team after years of obscurity? Look no further than this rejuvenated running game, which has only been outdone by the Kansas City Chiefs. Darren McFadden is in the midst of his breakout season, putting up a gaudy 5.2 yards per carry. Michael Bush is the power back in the dynamic duo, contributing nearly 400 yards and 4 touchdowns of his own.
That means the Dolphins will likely sellout to stop this dangerous ground attack, and try to force Jason Campbell to make plays in order for the Raiders to move the football. If the Dolphins can successfully shut down McFadden and Bush, this game has the makings of a low scoring defensive struggle. In not, I just don’t see this Miami offense putting enough points on the board to compete with this explosive Raiders’ running game.
To do so, the Dolphins must tackle well all game long. They have done a much better job at setting the edge and avoiding over-pursuing lately, but missed tackles have allowed opposing backs to get into space too often. This will especially be important against a speedster like McFadden, who is always a threat to take it the distance.
Dolphins passing attack (16th) vs. Raiders pass defense (3rd)
It doesn’t look very promising for this pass first attack against a Raiders’ secondary that has been so dominate. Maybe the Raiders wouldn’t rank quite as high if they weren’t so easy to run on, but there’s really no doubt that Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the league’s top two or three corners.
Maybe it’s not so detrimental that Brandon Marshall will likely miss this game, because being matched up against Nnamdi, he probably wasn’t going to have much of an impact anyway. But this Dolphins’ offense will desperately need either Marlon Moore or the banged up Roberto Wallace to step up in a big way. Moore has the speed to be a real vertical threat for an offense that could use more chunk yardage, while Wallace has Marshall type size but has yet to make much of an impact.
Neither will have much of a chance, though, if the offensive line doesn’t give the immobile Chad Henne sufficient time to scan the field. The line is expected to return to its normal starting five, but Long, Carey, and Berger will all be playing hurt. The Raiders rank 4th in the league with 29 sacks so far. A scary thought considering the Bears got to the mobile Thigpen six times last week despite only registering 13 sacks heading into Thursday night’s game.
Raiders passing attack (29th) vs. Dolphins pass defense (4th)
Those Dolphin fans who have already moved on to next year, can take solace in the fact that the Dolphins have finally solidified their secondary. Vontae Davis hasn’t quite emerged as a top five corner yet, but he’s well on his way. His counterpart, Sean Smith, has played great coverage since recapturing his starting position against the Bengals, but needs to capitalize more when given the opportunity to make a play on the football. Nickel corner Benny Sapp has been hot and cold, but has the tools to develop into a quality player.
Safety wise, Chris Clemons returns from injury after missing last week. Reshad Jones made a few plays as his replacement, but most would agree that he is better suited to be Yeremiah Bell’s eventual successor at strong safety.
If I have one complaint about this unit, though, it’s their ability to get off the field on third down. They were in the midst of a decent outing against the Bears, but couldn’t get Cutler and company on the sideline on some key third downs and consequently the whole defense wore down in the second-half.
I’m expecting a great game against the Raiders anemic passing game this week, though. If there is one thing to fear, it’s the speed of the Oakland receiving core, but I think this Miami secondary will do a solid job of preventing them from getting the football in space.
Also, the Dolphins’ pass rush should have a field day against the struggling Raider pass protection. So far the Raiders have conceded the third most sacks in the league with 32. Lookout for another big game from Cameron Wake. He should face the double team all evening, though, so it would be nice if someone else could pick up some of the slack. I’m looking at you Koa Misi.
The Dolphins flirted with a couple big Devin Hester returns last week, but overall, they have been a much improved unit since the beginning of the season. They face a very dangerous Raider special-teams this Sunday, however. They’ve already blocked two punts this season, which could be problematic for a Dolphins team that has already had two of Brandon Fields’ boots blocked.
The Raiders also possess a few dangerous return men. Jacoby Ford averages 23.4 yards per kick return and has returned a kick for a 94-yard touchdown. Nick Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins have shared punt return duties, with both averaging over seven yards per return. Johnnie Lee Higgins has a 53-yard punt return under his belt, while Miller’s long is 46.