By Sam McPherson
If the Oakland Raiders are an enigma to the casual NFL fan, then the Miami Dolphins might just be considered the same—just not as recognizable. In Week Four, the two teams will take each other on at Wembley Stadium in London, England, and both teams can benefit from the neutral site matchup right now.
The Silver & Black are coming off an unexpectedly close loss to the New England Patriots on the road in Week Three, while the Fish (yes, we know dolphins are mammals) got their fins clipped pretty badly by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday themselves.
Both teams might be rejoicing in the break from the home fans and the criticism as they prepare to represent the NFL and American football on the international stage this week.
The Dolphins are 1-2 this year, with a Week One victory over the Patriots at home as their lone win. And that 33-20 victory was somewhat of a surprise. Since then, Miami lost 29-10 in Buffalo and 34-15 at home to the Chiefs.
Once one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, the Dolphins have fallen upon hard times: they’ve made the playoffs just once since 2001, and Miami hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000. The organization that gave us so many memories—Don Shula, Larry Csonka, the No-Name Defense, Dan Marino, etc.—has somewhat disappeared off the radar.
Sounds familiar, actually.
Dolphins on Offense
Ryan Tannehill is the Miami quarterback, and he might go down in history as a footnote: he was the Texas A&M starting quarterback before Johnny Football. Tannehill, a third-year veteran now, hasn’t really busted out, and this could be a make-or-break year for him in terms of cementing his place in the NFL.
His numbers this year are not good: only 56.5% of his passes completed, for just 5.0 yards per attempt. He’s also been sacked nine times in three games, although Tannehill has thrown four touchdowns and just two interceptions. But the Dolphins just can’t seem to get the ball down the field, despite the presence of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay on the roster.
Miami’s offensive struggles are not with the running game, however: the team is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, so you can expect them to try to run on the Raiders early and often to soften up the defense for Tannehill later in the game. That’s how the Dolphins need to succeed in order to win. Running back Lamar Miller will likely be the starter, but Miami has been missing Knowshon Moreno since he went down early against the Bills in Week Two—and he won’t be back for at least a month.
Dolphins on Defense
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins leads the team in tackles with 25 so far, and no one else on the roster is even close to that total. The Raiders can either run at someone else or take their chances that Jenkins can’t do it all by himself.
Veteran linebacker Jason Trusnik and strong safety Jimmy Wilson are also stalwarts on this “no-name” defense, while defensive ends Oliver Vernon and Cameron Wake are tied for the team lead in sacks right now, with two apiece.
Generally, this isn’t a defensive unit with superstars that’s going to scare an opponent into altering their game plan.
Dolphins Players to Watch
If the Dolphins get their ground game going with Miller and/or rookie Damien Williams, then that will open up opportunities for Tannehill to throw more effectively and successfully. Expect this to be the Miami offense’s first plan of attack, considering how bad the Raiders run defense was early in the season. Sure, Oakland held fast and tight against the Patriots’ ground game, but until the Silver & Black can do that on a regular basis, opponents will be testing it early each time out.
But the key really is Tannehill: the Raiders struggled against Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first two weeks of the season, and Tannehill arguably is better than both those QBs. If the Miami quarterback is making downfield gains early, it could be a sign Oakland is back to its old habits.
The Raiders hurt themselves at the end of the New England loss with a bad penalty; otherwise, they might have pulled out an upset in overtime. Oakland has been close to winning in two of its three losses, both on the road against AFC East teams. This isn’t a true “road” game, of course, but perhaps the third time against the division is a charm.
The key will be Oakland’s defense, though, as usual: if they can replicate their Week Three effort, the Raiders offense should be able to make some headway against the Dolphins defense.
It says here one team is hungrier than the other, and the team that will feast in London is the one from the West Coast.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.