Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders: Complete Week 4 Preview for Oakland
Despite starting the season 0-3, the Oakland Raiders played much better in their last game. The defensive line finally showed up, and the offense was able to stay away (mostly) from costly turnovers. Oakland still lost, but there were at least some positives to build off of.
The most pleasant surprise of Week 3 was the play of the defense. Heading into the game, the consensus was that the New England Patriots would win comfortably. That turned out not to be the case as the Oakland defense had by far its best performance of the season.
The secondary bent but never broke, and it was able to keep the New England offense out of the end zone aside from one touchdown. But the biggest factor was the play of the defensive line, which was able to generate pressure on an opposing quarterback for the first time in three games.
The Oakland front seven was also effective against the run, holding the Patriots to 76 yards on only 2.4 yards per carry. Although the defense gave up some plays, it held New England to 16 points, created some three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and gave the team a chance to win.
The offense continues to show promise, but that has yet to translate into points. The Oakland offense has yet to score more than 14 points in a game, and it's currently averaging a pitiful 12.3 points per contest, last in the NFL. Whether the defense plays well or not, it's going to take more than that from the offense for the Raiders to get their first win.
After an impressive opening-week victory over New England, the Miami Dolphins haven't come close to duplicating the same level of play, and they've been blown out the last two weeks. As Oakland has improved, Miami has regressed, making this a very winnable game for the Raiders.
This week, the Raiders travel to London, England, for their Week 4 "home" game. Sunday's kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET from Wembley Stadium. Here's a complete breakdown of the matchup, a game that could, and maybe should, be Oakland's first win of 2014.
Oakland Raiders Week 3 Recap
Every week of the NFL season, Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport compiles a list of predictions from our staff of National Lead and Division Lead Writers. The list includes the top candidate for "Blowout of the Week." Which game was last week's winner? You guessed it. The writers selected the New England Patriots over the Oakland Raiders, and it wasn't even close.
Really, it was hard to disagree. The Patriots have been one of the NFL's elite franchises for more than a decade. During that same span, the Raiders have been the exact opposite, and this year looked to provide more of the same. But after two disappointing performances, the Raiders finally took a stand in Week 3.
For Oakland to have a chance to beat New England, the defense was going to have to play much better than it had so far, and it did. For the first time, the unit had a positive impact on the game as it was able to consistently get pressure on Tom Brady without help from the linebackers.
Justin Tuck earned his first sack, and he had New England left tackle Nate Solder on his heels all game. The defensive line as a whole was disruptive for four quarters, disrupting the New England passing game and shutting down the run.
For the game, New England had 76 yards and averaged only 2.2 yards per carry. This was a huge improvement for a Raiders defense that had given up a league-worst 400 yards through the first two weeks.
While the defense did enough to win the game, the offense did not. Derek Carr had some success moving the offense down the field, but despite generating three scores, none of them were a touchdown.
Currently averaging only 12.3 points per game, the Raiders have to find a way to score more points. The responsibility for this is as much on the running game as it is on the passing game. The running backs combined for only 67 yards on Sunday. This made the offense one-dimensional and severely limited the unit's overall effectiveness.
But despite the areas that still need improvement, Oakland went toe-to-toe with New England. And if not for a called-back touchdown on a questionable holding call and a careless drop by Denarius Moore that led to a game-ending interception in the game's final minute, the Raiders could have won this game.
Although Oakland lost the game, it still provided the first real glimmer of hope. The offense was able to move the ball, and the defense was able to get big stops. Despite the predictions heading into the game and how well-founded they were, Oakland not only proved that it could play with a team like New England but also that it has what it takes to win.
It might not amount to much more than a moral victory, but for a team and a franchise trying to put an end to more than a decade of failure, it was an important victory nonetheless.
News and Notes
Life as a Raider
This week, B/R Productions released a video chronicling a day in the life of three of the Oakland Raiders' biggest fans: Skulls, Metal Cindy and Darth Raider (you can check out the video above). Anyone who's watched a Raiders home game and caught a shot of the infamous Black Hole might recognize one (or all) of them.
Every fanbase in the NFL claims to be the best. But being a member of Raider Nation, with its rebelliousness and its ingrained disdain for the status quo, is a culture unto itself. Al Davis spent a lifetime cultivating this culture, and fans of the team have passionately carried on this legacy.
For this reason, fans of the team can be found almost everywhere. In fact, CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair tweeted, "I'm in central London, and there are a TON of #Raiders fans here."
Too often, Raiders fans get a bad rap, but they're arguably the best fans in the NFL. Passionate? Yes. Dedicated? Yes. Loyal? Absolutely.
After more than a decade of ineptitude, you might ask yourself, why? The answer is actually quite simple: It feels good to be a Raider.
Menelik Watson might only be a reserve offensive lineman in the United States, but in England, he's a local hero.
Per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, Watson has been by far the biggest celebrity on the roster since the team's arrival in London: "There is no question the most interesting Oakland Raiders player to the British media this week is reserve offensive lineman Menelik Watson. It's not even close. That would explain a backup getting his own news conference."
Per Williamson, head coach Dennis Allen admits that Watson still has a lot to work on, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing: "He doesn't have a lot of football experience. He's still relatively young to the game. I'm not in any way disappointed as far as where he's at. He's just still got some development to do, some growing up to do. I still think that he's going to be a really good player at some point."
Watson will only see limited time on Sunday, if he plays at all. But his presence and impact go beyond football. He's single-handedly growing the fanbase of not only the Raiders, but of the NFL as a whole.
Next Man Up
Every team in the NFL deals with injuries throughout the season. What matters is how capable each team is in effectively plugging the holes in its roster. For this Raiders team, that's already short on talent, this is going to prove especially challenging.
The injuries have quickly piled up on both sides of the ball for Oakland, and the team is scrambling to try to find effective solutions. Of the nine players currently on the injured list, five (Sio Moore, Tyvon Branch, Rod Streater, Maurice Jones-Drew and Nick Roach) are starters, one (Chimdi Chekwa) is a projected starter and another (Miles Burris) is an important rotational linebacker and special teams player.
The Raiders haven't just lost bodies. They've lost important players who were going to be major factors in what was supposed to be a turnaround year. But the fact is that these players aren't available, and the team is going to have to figure out a way to succeed without them.
Guys such as Darren McFadden, Andre Holmes and Usama Young are going to have to step in and make an impact for Oakland to have a chance at success in what has already been a tough season.
Who Will Step Up at Wide Receiver?
The injury to Streater and the disappointing play of Denarius Moore have left a gaping hole at wide receiver in Oakland. Aside from James Jones, no receiver on the roster has proven to be able to consistently produce.
This has left the door wide-open for Andre Holmes and new addition Vincent Brown.
Holmes is the leading candidate to step in for Streater, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson. Head coach Allen (via Williamson) has expressed confidence in Holmes, ensuring that the 6'4" receiver will get plenty of opportunities against Miami. It's possible that the increase in plays and targets could be just what he needs to become a consistent producer.
Brown has a tougher road ahead of him as he's still learning the playbook. However, he appears fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in 2012. A return to his pre-injury form would do wonders for this offense.
Moore, and even Brice Butler, will get a chance to show that they can contribute. But for now, the position is there for the taking for Holmes and Brown.
Is Hayden Ready to Return?
There's been little news on the D.J. Hayden front since he was added to the physically unable to perform (PUP) list prior to the season. However, the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur tweeted this week that Hayden has been "moving well" in practice, and he appears on schedule to return in three weeks.
Although it's only his second year, Raiders fans have already learned to take any good news regarding Hayden with a grain of salt. Since joining the team, he's been injured more often than not, and the only thing he's proven is so far is that he can't be depended on.
But he is still young, and to be fair, he hasn't been on the field enough to show what he's really capable of. Ideally, he'll return in three weeks, stay healthy and provide enough evidence to determine what he can really do.
The Raiders still think he's destined to be a No. 1, lockdown corner. If his recovery stays on schedule, he'll get a chance to prove them right soon enough.
|Tyvon Branch||CB||Out for season|
*All injury statuses via CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair.
Already a team short on talent when healthy, Oakland is now facing tough decisions all over the roster. As the injuries mount, the team is going to need the reserves to step in and play a major role in turning the season around.
After suffering a broken foot last week, Branch has been placed on injured reserve and is out for the rest of the season. It's a tough blow to a guy who missed 14 games in 2013. He managed only one more game in 2014. Usama Young will be his replacement, and he'll have his work cut out for him as he'll replace one of Oakland's leading tacklers.
For insurance, the Raiders also added Brandian Ross, who was released by the Dolphins this past week. He'll see limited action, if any, this week against the Dolphins.
Streater, Moore and Schaub have all been ruled out for the game in London. Streater also suffered a broken foot, but it's not as severe an injury as the one suffered by Branch. ESPN.com's Bill Williamson tweeted that, according to Streater's agent, the wide receiver's surgery was minor, and it's possible that he could return in 4-5 weeks.
Moore will miss his second game since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2, and Oakland will once again have to figure out a way to replace the production of one of the defense's most dynamic players. The task will once again fall to Kaluka Maiava.
Roach is once again unlikely to return to action as he continues his extended recovery from a concussion. He's been limited in practice and still seems at least one more game away from returning to the starting lineup.
Unfortunately, his replacement, Burris, is also listed as questionable, further hampering the linebacking corps. Although it's not ideal, it's very possible that rookie Bojay Filimoeatu will see his first extended action.
Chekwa began the regular season on the injured list, came back for one game and is now once again listed as questionable. He has the chance to earn a major role at cornerback, but until he's healthy, he'll remain another unknown quantity at the position.
Schaub didn't travel with the team to London and will miss his second consecutive game, but it's not because of injury. Per ESPN.com, "League sources told ESPN's Ed Werder that Schaub's wife, Laurie, had an emergency C-section to deliver the couple's child, who is several months premature. Schaub's wife and the baby reportedly are doing well."
With the bye week coming up in Week 5, Schaub will get to spend an extended period of time with his wife and their newborn. Whether you're a fan of his or not, this is far more important than football. Here's wishing a speedy recovery for Mrs. Schaub and a healthy beginning for their baby.
The one positive is the return of Jones-Drew. McFadden has continued to get the majority of the reps in practice, but Jones-Drew will see action on Sunday. This could finally be the week that the two-headed running back monster many expected to see finally comes alive.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Miami rush defense
The Miami Herald's Adam H. Beasley notes that while Miami's quarterback controversy has been grabbing all the headlines, the team's biggest problem is run defense. Per Beasley, the Dolphins have allowed 125.3 yards per game, including 174 yards last week.
This could be just what the doctor order for McFadden and Jones-Drew, both of which have struggled mightily so far. To put that into perspective, consider that Oakland's rushing attack last week had 67 yards on 22 carries, an average of only three yards per carry.That's a bad rushing performance, yet it was by far Oakland's best of the season.
Carr has played well, but he's had absolutely no help from his running backs. The Raiders have to establish a reliable running game against Miami to make this more than a one-dimensional offense. If McFadden and Jones-Drew get the job done, the Oakland offense could have a surprisingly good day.
Usama Young vs. Lamar Miller
While Tyvon Branch is a safety, his best work had been closer to the line, playing a major role in rush defense. Through three games, Branch totaled an impressive 30 tackles.
Now that he's lost for the year, it will fall on Young to pick up where Branch left off. His first test will be this week against Lamar Miller, who's averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Young shouldn't be such a major part of the rush defense, but he will be until the Oakland defensive front seven prove that it can do the job. On Sunday, he'll need to be a solid tackler in the open field against Miller and reduce his production.
Oakland defensive line vs. Miami offensive line
Last week was the defensive line's first solid performance. It was able to get to the quarterback, and it was very good against the run. This Sunday against Miami, the defensive line has a great opportunity to build on that success.
The Miami offensive line was already struggling, and now it'll be without starting center Mike Pouncey, per Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel. If the Oakland defensive line plays as strong and aggressive as it did last week, it will have plenty of opportunities to get into the backfield, sack the quarterback and disrupt the offense.
The biggest challenge will be against the run, where the Dolphins have still been effective, rushing for over 140 yards in two of their first three games. If the Raiders can slow the run and get to Tannehill, the Miami offense could be rendered ineffective for the game.
X-Factor of the Week: Justin Tuck
The biggest addition along the Oakland defensive line this offseason was Justin Tuck. He was expected to provide consistent pressure off the edge and produce sacks, an area the Raiders defense struggled in last rear. Through the first two games, that wasn't the case.
But last week, Tuck finally came alive. He earned his first sack as a Raider and was a disruptive force throughout the game. This week provides a great opportunity to continue that level of play against a struggling Miami offensive line.
The Dolphins are unsettled at quarterback, but they've decided to go with Ryan Tannehill this week. Although his play has been disappointing, the poor play of the offensive line has played a major part in this. Tannehill has been sacked nine times through three games and eight times in the last two (four times in each).
If Tuck can continue that trend, take advantage of the porous Miami offensive line and get to Tannehill consistently, it will make the Oakland defense's job that much easier, and it will give the Raiders a great shot at their first win.
The Raiders have yet to earn their first win, but they've been able to do some things right, and last week was the first sign that the team is finally starting to figure things out. The offense was able to move the ball, and the defense was able to get stops.
Miami, on the other hand, is trending in the wrong direction. After an impressive performance in Week 1, the Dolphins have looked really bad the last two weeks, losing both games by 19 points while not scoring no more than 15 points in either contest.
While the Oakland defense has struggled, it has held two of three opponents under 20 points, and that was before it started to play better. This should continue against a struggling Miami offense that has been unable to score points or protect its quarterback.
Tannehill has been sacked nine times through three games, including four times in each of the last two. The increased production of the Oakland defensive front will be able to get to him and disrupt the Miami offense at the source.
The deciding factor in this game will be whether or not the Oakland offense is able to score enough points to win. It has shown some positive signs, but the touchdowns haven't been there. Against Miami, the offense will finally be able to turn some of those field goals into touchdowns. This will be in part to McFadden and Jones-Drew finally putting together a solid performance.
Carr won't have a big game, but he will be efficient and continue to find first downs, and the running backs will combine for Oakland's first 100-yard rushing game of the season. This will be enough for the Oakland offense to score enough points.
When the Raiders fly home from London, they'll do so with their first win of the season.
Prediction: Raiders 20, Miami 17
Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.
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