The Raiders land in Miami to face a rejuvenated Dolphins team. It was a few short weeks ago Tony Sparano was on the chopping block. Now, after winning three of the last four, Sparano’s team looks to play spoiler in the AFC. The Dolphins are finding out what they have in quarterback Matt Moore, the defense is playing well and Reggie Bush may be relevant once again.
It was a week full of distraction for the 7-4 Raiders and perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. The focus could have been on how the Raiders are still unable to get three offensive playmakers on the field. Jacoby Ford Denarius Moore and Darren McFadden remain out of action. Tommy Kelly did not participate in practice and is questionable with toe injury.
There is good news for the Raiders, they get back veteran corner Chris Johnson and Richard Seymour is getting healthy. The offense has been able to manage without Ford, Moore and McFadden, but the defense has been patchy and can use all the help they can get.
The Dolphins are surprising evenly matched with the Raiders and the game could come down to turnovers and special teams play or a defensive score.
The Dolphins defense is averaging less than 100 yards allowed on the ground. That’s bad news for Michael Bush. The good news for the Raiders is that the Dolphins have been vulnerable through the air.
Palmer is capable and if he can limit mistakes could have a big day ahead of him. The Raiders should use play action early and as the Dolphins’ linebackers will attempt to fill the run. Expect a couple deep shots and for the Raiders to utilize Marcel Reece and more three and four receiver sets than usual to force the Dolphins to take a linebacker off the field. Any of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy or Chaz Schilens could be in for big days.
In the run game, the Raiders could choose to spread the Dolphins out or focus on zone blocking to setup the passing game in the redzone. The zone running style suits Michael Bush and could help the offensive line recover from the physical domination the Bears laid on them last week. Bush is at his best running north and south and the Raiders will try slip Bush past the line and take their chances with Bush against smaller players.
Jared Veldheer draws a matchup against Cameron Wake. Another tough battle for the Raiders young left tackle. After a string a good games, Julius Peppers got the best of him, but don’t expect that to continue, Peppers, when he wants to, can get after the best. Expect Veldheer to handle Wake and keep him away from Palmer most of the day. Samson Satele has a tall order in front of him in Paul Soliai. Every 3-4 defense needs a good nose tackle and that has been Satele’s weakness for years. If the Raiders are able to run, it will be because of the play of Satele.
The Dolphins have found a rejuvenated passing game behind Matt Moore and the Raiders are still struggling to collect themselves on defense. Richard Seymour has been nursing a sore knee but it is healing. If Reggie Bush splits wide the Raiders will cover him with a safety such as Mike Mitchell or Michael Huff.
Brandon Marshall is the biggest weapon and one that must be handled for the Raiders to have a good day. Stanford Routt shadowed Vincent Jackson against the Chargers only for Vincent Brown to have a monster day. The Dolphins flank Marshall with Brian Hartline. Hartline is certainly capable of doing damage, but he’s hardly the jump-ball threat that Vincent Brown is.
Lamaar Houston has had a good season and that should continue today. The Dolphins offensive line has weaknesses and Houston can exploit them along with his part-time defensive end friend Kamerion Wimbley. Marc Colombo can be beat and Jake Long has taken steps back this season. The Raiders will attack the edge and hope to pressure Matt Moore into mistakes.
Houston could also see time inside at defensive tackle with Tommy Kelly’s status in doubt due to a toe injury.
As has been the key for the Raiders, the linebackers must step up and stop the run to allow the big men up front to rush the passer. That’s the Raiders game.
Special teams could be the difference between a win and a loss between two surprisingly evenly matched teams. Coverage units need to keep Clyde Gates from getting his feet moving in the return game. Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler need only to continue to do their thing.
Would be easy to say turnovers. The team with more usually wins, particularly when the teams are so evenly matched. Perhaps more important for the Raiders to covert in the redzone and score touchdowns. Carson Palmer, Michael Bush and the rest of the offense have struggled punching the ball into the redzone. The Raiders need to turn scoring opportunities into touchdowns and not just field goals.
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