This Sunday, the Miami Dolphins will take on the Oakland Raiders at Sun-Life Stadium. This is a preview of how I see this game playing out.
When Oakland has the ball.
Since Darren McFadden went out with a “mild” foot sprain, the Raiders rushing offense has tailed off a bit, registering 136 yards per game over their last 5 games. To say tailed off would be a mild overstatement, though. They would probably be ranked second in rushing with McFadden, instead of their current ranking of 4th. Michael Bush has proven that he can shoulder the load with McFadden ailing, registering an impressive 106 yards per game since McFadden’s injury, with a 4.1 average, a very respectable clip for a big bruising battering ram. Signs currently point to McFadden missing his sixth game in a row.
You may not have noticed, but the Dolphins defense is not the fastest group of human beings on the planet, but they are collection of very large human beings. McFadden missing in action bodes well for a defense that has had its share of problems with smaller, quicker RBs. Danny Woodhead (NE), Ryan Mathews(SD), and Ben Tate(HOU). Each rushed for over 4.5 yards per carry in games against the Dolphins. Take those smaller backs out of the equation and opponents have rushed for 3.4 yards per carry, an extremely good average for a defense to allow.
At QB, Carson Palmer is flinging it. Sometimes he hits his guys, sometimes he hits the other guys, 8 int in 5 games. Al Davis would be proud of the vertical passing game the Raiders have shown since Palmer has taken over as Quarterback. On the season, Palmer currently registers 8.91 yards per pass attempt, which, if he qualified, would be second in the league behind some guy named Aaron Rodgers. Since 2002 the only other quarterback to surpass that 8.91 YPA mark was Peyton Manning in 2004. Of course, Peyton completed 68.1 percent of his passes, threw for 49 Touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. Carson will surpass one of those totals this year.
A vertical passing game has a tendency to cause severe problems to the Dolphins defense (see Vincent Jackson vs. Dolphins, 2011 and every tight end Miami has ever faced). The Dolphins are currently 19th in the league, giving up an average of 7.3 Yards per pass attempt, not a number they can feel at all comfortable with when going against the Raiders, although the cornerback tandem of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have done a fairly impressive job of late… probably because they are not having hamstring cramps every other series. The Dolphins in general have been playing the pass very well recently, as they have two interceptions in three straight games, a feat I cannot remember ever happening, although I am admittedly too lazy to look it up. This fact cannot be forgotten when facing Carson Palmer, who has a tendency to airmail balls when he gets pressured.
When Miami has the ball.
Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas have been a mixed bag this season. Thomas’ first two games played show hints of why Jeff Ireland traded away three picks to have the opportunity to draft him. Since then, minor injuries have kept Thomas from earning a bigger role, and once the injuries healed, Reggie Bush decided it was a good time to become RB1 instead of RB1A, rushing for an average of 77 yards per game at a gaudy 6.71 yards per carry from weeks 6 through 10. He has since tailed off quite a bit from that pace, but his workload remains high, and he still looks good delivering pizzas.
The Raiders allow 5.3 yards per carry, an absurd figure that, if it holds, would match the mark the 2006 Indianapolis Colts’ historically bad defense set. It is well known that Tony Sparano wants to run the ball, and the Dolphins O-Line was built to run the ball. This is the game to do it. It will be a travesty if the Dolphins do not rush more than 30 times.
Mark Columbo and the entire offensive line, bless their hearts, are going to eventually get Matt Moore killed, and when that happens the vein in my neck that sticks out when I get upset is going to explode. Through 11 games, Miami Quarterbacks have been sacked a total of 33 times. To put that in perspective, the most Dan Marino was sacked in one season was 32 times in 1992. Including two playoff games. I miss Dan. Of course, the glass half full guy will note that the dolphins have gone against 5 of the top 10 sacking defenses in the league, and will add two more to that total with Philadelphia and Oakland, so maybe we shouldn’t blame them all that much. (Glass half empty guy will say the Dolphins are a good reason their opponents sack totals are so high.)
When Matt Moore is not flat on his back, he can take solace in the fact that there is not a Raiders defender that can in any way shape or form handle the Monster…. That is, if Brandon Marshall decides to be the “Monster” on Sunday. If not, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess will be matched up against Rookies Demarcus Van Dyke, Chimdi Chekwa, or second year man Joe Porter, not the most intimidating bushel of corners I have ever seen. And, yes, I had to Google Oakland Cornerbacks to get their names.
Edge goes to Sebastian Janikowski in the kicker department, as he has only missed two field goals all season, and is an incredible 5 of 6 from 50 yards or more, with a long that shares the league record of 63. Plus there is always the chance that he will get a coach brave enough to let him try a 75 yarder at the end of the half or game…. It is always exciting when Oakland gets to their own 30 yard line and Seabass starts warming up that Howitzer. This is not to say that Dan Carpenter is a slouch, having made 18 of his 22 attempts, but the dolphins have to be ten yards closer for Carpenter.
As far as Punters, this game will quite possibly feature this years AFC Pro Bowl Punter. Brandon Fields leads the NFL in punts downed inside the 20 yard line with 24, and Shane Lechler leads the league in punt average with 51.5, a figure that would eclipse the 71 year old record of 51.4, held by Sammy Baugh. Not every day you get to talk about a 71 year old record falling.
Kickoff Return Man extraordinaire Jacoby Ford, you remember that guy, is possibly going to be sidelined with an ankle injury, and punt returner Denarius Moore is also a bit hobbled with a foot injury, although it looks as though Moore will be able to play. This leaves Oakland’s return game as a big question mark. On the other sideline, Rookie Burner Clyde Gates seems to be improving while kick returning. The 23 yard average does not look impressive, but the 39 yard return against Dallas was huge. Davone Bess has been solid if unspectacular in returning punts. His 11.0 average is 10th in the league, but seeing his long of 22 yards really makes me want to cry a little.
Now if you will permit me a small paragraph or two to introduce myself. My name is Stephen and I have somehow conned my way into being a new writer for PhinPhanatic.com. I have been a Dolphins fan since I was roughly 7 years old. I was an Army brat growing up, so I did not really have a home team to latch onto. One day a friend of my mother’s was over watching football. I went up to him and asked him who was playing, and he told me it was the Dolphins and some random team. I asked him if the Dolphins were winning, assuming that since he mentioned them first, then that was the team he was going for, and he in turn asked me, “Does a snake drag its butt?” If you knew the kind of kid I was, you would know the answer I gave, but I’ll share it with you anyway. I said in the most serious tone, “I don’t know, I never checked.” He thought that was the funniest thing ever…. And I had no idea why he was laughing. He ended up coming over to our house a couple more times to watch football, so that’s how I ended up a Dolphins fan. My brother tells me that story sucks, and it probably does, but it is my story.
I am new to writing out my thoughts with the intentions of them being read by other people. I am quite sure I will make many mistakes, and probably already have. I relish the opportunity to be able to write about something I am incredibly passionate about, and I look forward to any advice or constructive criticism you can give me. Just be considerate and remember that I am first and foremost a Phin Phan are the only things I ask.