Week 2 of the NFL’s new season is already here, so it is time to look ahead to this week’s match-up between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins, two teams guilty of shooting themselves in the foot in Week 1.
The Dolphins gave up the ball 4 times in the last half of the second quarter, giving up 3 touchdowns after the two minute warning. The rest of the game was fairly positive, with the defense holding the Houston Texans high-powered offense to 3 field goals, while Reggie Bush racked up over 100 receiving/rushing yards.
For the Raiders, the storyline was a concussion suffered by Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Condo which led to three back-breaking mishaps when back-up linebacker Travis Goethel could not figure out how to get the ball to Shane Lechler, arguably the league’s best punter. The result was excellent field position for the San Diego Chargers, who took advantage by putting points on the board every time.
Both of these teams have rookie head coaches, but the Dolphins are clearly in the midst of a re-building phase. The Raiders may have looked like a team in need of re-building last week, but this is their squad they hope will take them to the Super Bowl. If they hope to contend in a competitive AFC West, they will need to get a win in Week 2.
Here is a look at what to expect on Sunday:
Passing/receiving- There is no doubt, the biggest question for the Dolphins will be how their young rookie quarterback will bounce back from a devious start to his career. Unfortunately for Ryan Tannehill, the opposing defense will not be much easier to deal with then last weeks. The Raiders have a front 7 intent on disrupting the Dolphins offense, and a secondary just itching to pad their stats against the inexperienced QB. The entire 11 man unit has the talent to get the job done too, but whether or not Tannehill cooperates with them or not remains to be seen. Tannehill was very decisive with the ball in Week 1. He had troubles getting his passes past the line of the Houston Texans, but he showed no hesitating as tossed the ball around the field. If Tannehill can stay on his feet, make quick and accurate decisions, and of course get the ball up higher on the quick plays he will stand a good chance of having a solid game against a respectable defense.
The Dolphins wide receivers have been a point of conversation since training camp started, and nothing has gotten much better. Davone Bess will still be considered the number 1 and Chad Johnson will still be sitting at home. One thing that may be different this week could be the start of Brian Hartline in place of Legedu Naanee. This changes very little since Hartline would have been on the field just as often, even as the third WR. There were some great moments in the passing game against the Texans, and if they can get it clicking against the Raiders coverage, they could give their quarterback a shot at getting his first win.
Rushing- Oakland held their week 1 opponent to just 32 total yards on the ground and they are not planning on letting the Dolphins backs to add too much to that total. Several players have let it be known they feel Reggie Bush is the one lone danger on the Dolphins, and they plan to blanket him all game long, whether he has the ball or not. This, of course, is just pre-game talk coming from the enemy locker rooms, but no one should blame them if it was their game plan. This does not mean it would work. Even with all eyes on him, Bush has both the talent and the will to make a difference regardless of circumstances. Against the Houston Texans, Bush ran hard all game, mostly one cut and downhill runs, something people would have never imagined a few years ago.
It looks as though he will be joined in the backfield by the battering ram known as Javorski Lane, and by rookie Lamar Miller. Daniel Thomas, who is usually second on the depth chart, has passed his concussion tests following a head injury in last week’s game, but he will still be sitting this one out. This is an opportunity for either of the two first year players to show what they can do to help their ball club win. An interesting scenario would have the Dolphins using Lane to wear on the defensive front 7 over the course of the game. Use the big man more extensively and then allow Bush and Miller to take complete advantage when they are battered and bloody. A look back at the damage Lane has caused since suiting up for preseason makes this scenario look really good. No matter how it is done, if the Dolphins can get decent production from their backfield, then this contest will be no walk in the park for the Raiders.
Offensive Line- There was some horrendous play against the Texans last week, and the competition doesn’t get much easier this week as they go up against Richard Seymour, Rolando McClain, and the rest of their pass rushing cohorts. Jake Long seemed a bit off, Ritchie Incognito was kicked and accused of being a dirty player, and both John Jerry and rookie Jonathan Martin were guilty of giving up a couple of nasty sacks. Along with Michael Pouncey and the tight ends, the whole line is going to have to pick it up this week. If they can pick up the blitz on passes and get to the second level as run blockers, Joe Philbin will be one very happy head coach, and the Dolphins will stand a chance of doing enough to win.
Defense- Unless Philbin does some creative game planning and is able to free up Bush, or utilizes Lane in as more than an afterthought, the Dolphins defense will likely be the team’s biggest strength. Although last week’s score failed to reflect it, the defense played a decent game against the Texan’s powerful offense. Except from the two minute meltdown to end the first half, the Dolphins D consistently stopped Houston and forced them to kick field goals. This in itself was a small victory. As for the two minutes before the half, well, Houston took control of the ball on a short field after 3 Dolphin turnovers during this span. The Texans had momentum and they were able to take advantage of the shell shocked defense.
Despite Oakland’s weapons, this week is actually a much more favorable match-up. Carson Palmer threw the ball well last week, but he has a history of being easily coerced into making poor decisions when he is knocked around a bit. If Cameron Wake and the rest of the Dolphins front 7 can get in and rough him up a bit, the odds of him rushing a pass and hooking up with a Dolphins defensive back become pretty high. Oakland is missing its key speed guys, limiting the Raiders ability to hit the home run on any given play. Instead the Raiders will likely be looking to plink and plunk their way down the field, with Palmer connecting with his possession receivers and running backs to advance the ball. In fact, Darren McFadden was the team’s leading receiver last week against the Chargers.
Besides the threat as a receiver, McFadden is one of the NFL’s most talented running backs, and just as the Raiders will be concentrating on Bush, the Dolphins will need to keep a man on McFadden at all times. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has the personnel available to keep a spy on the productive running back, possibly utilizing the speed and strength of Karlos Dansby or Koa Misi to shadow McFadden whenever he is on the field. As long as they are able to make their tackles, or at least hold McFadden up long enough to get help, the Dolphins stand a good chance of holding the Oakland star to a minimum in both the passing and rushing game. If last week was an indication of what Miami’s defense can be capable of, Oakland could be in for a long day.
Summary- Oakland will come into South Florida confidant in their ability to pull out a win. They are stronger than the Dolphins in all phases of the game, and facing the Dolphins home crowd should not be enough to sway the match-up in the home team’s favor. The Dolphins have the ability to stuff Oakland’s offense and keep the game close enough to squeeze out a win, but no one should see the Dolphins as the favored team to win this match up.
Final score Raiders 17, Dolphins 10.
Jeff Everette is a Featured Columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. Follow Jeff on twitter @jeverettesports, like his page on FaceBook, or add his Google + to your circles for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.