Remember when the Miami Dolphins were locked in a battle with the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft? Doesn’t seem so long ago, yet now the Dolphins are left to rue missed opportunities with four games lost by the margin of a field goal or less. Flip those results around and the Dolphins would be 8-4 and talking about the playoffs.
Their opponents this week, the Oakland Raiders, can start to think about the playoffs for the first time in a good few years as they look to be competing with just the Denver Broncos now to win the AFC West. And, while everyone focuses on New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC, Oakland are lying in wait with arguably the best front four in the entire league.
In order to keep that one-game lead in the division, the Raiders will need to overcome this Dolphins team that is much improved, so with that in mind let’s take a look at the three areas to focus on.
Miami’s Offensive Line vs. Oakland’s Defensive Line
It’s safe to say that Jake Long (+0.4) hasn’t lived up to the high standards we have come to expect from the former No. 1 overall draft pick. He has already given up five sacks, six hits and 15 pressures this year. Not awful numbers, but when you consider that he gave up six sacks, three hits and 12 pressures for the whole of last season you can see the drop off. The good news is that he has given up just five pressures in the last four weeks. The good news if you are Marc Columbo (-20.1) fan? He’s missed just six snaps. The bad news? He hasn’t been very good. He grades out negatively in both run blocking and pass blocking, where he has allowed 39 total pressures.
The Raiders’ defensive line features four players with a grade of +11.0 or better; none higher than Richard Seymour‘s +15.3. Seymour has managed six sacks, six hits and 18 pressures as a pass rusher while adding a grade of +7.6 against the run – the only blemish on his year being the eight penalties he’s been called for. In passing situations, look out for Kamerion Wimbley (+34.1) who has already shown this year that he can flat out take over a game against a sub-par pass rusher … like Marc Columbo, for example. Wimbley has registered six sacks, 12 hits, and an impressive 35 pressures.
Oakland’s Wide Receivers vs. Miami’s Cornerbacks
After throwing to him just once in the loss to Denver, Carson Palmer has targeted Darrius Heward-Bey (-0.3) 14 times over the past two weeks and while he hasn’t put up the number he did earlier in the year, he still has a reception of 19 yards or more in both. Raiders’ fifth-round draft pick, Denarius Moore (+6.5) has been very much a boom or bust type of player in his rookie year – 269 of his 410 yards receiving have come in just two games. Moore has yet to drop a pass in his NFL career however when he is being targeted it has resulted in more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (4). He missed last week’s game with an injury, but the Raiders are hoping to have him back in the line-up against Miami.
In the Miami secondary, no player has seen a bigger drop-off in play than Sean Smith (-13.3) who has allowed 61% of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed this year. Last season he only allowed one touchdown, he has already allowed five this season. It all adds up to a QB Rating of 101.9 on passes thrown at Smith. Opposite Smith, Vontae Davis (-1.5) has also failed to live up to the expectations set with an impressive season a year ago. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown, but is still giving up 62.2% of passes thrown at him for 314 yards.
Carson Palmer vs. Matt Moore
Neither of these two opened the season as starting quarterback for their respective teams (for different reasons), but both are playing a key role in how well their teams are playing right now. Carson Palmer (+8.5) may have thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (6) but his 8.9 yards per attempt is second in the NFL only to Aaron Rodgers. He’s been particularly effective in the middle of the field beyond 20 yards where he has completed five of seven passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Matt Moore (+19.3) has completed 63% of his passes while throwing eight touchdowns to five interceptions. When under pressure, his completions percentage drops to 47.1% without any touchdowns thrown. That alone highlights the need for the Dolphins to keep Moore upright on Sunday.