LONDON -- I'm picking the Dolphins to beat the Raiders on Sunday. As it should be. The Dolphins can run the football and the Raiders cannot stop the run. The Dolphins' defensive front can dominate and the Raiders have a rookie quarterback.
This should be a Miami victory.
But I have some concerns.
The Raiders have some veteran pass-rushers. The Miami secondary has not been as aggressive as I would expect, which may be one reason for zero interceptions so far. The Dolphins are without multiple starters again, including Mike Pouncey and Randy Starks, and Koa Misi, and Shelley Smith. And, yes, I picked the Dolphins. And I'm 0-3 so far this year.
Anyway, here are the keys to the game:
When the Raiders pass the football: Matt Schaub was supposed to be the guy. But a funny thing happened to Schaub on his way to becoming the Raiders starting quarterback. He was terrible in the preseason and rookie Derek Carr beat him out. Schaub is out for this game. Carr has been unspectacular but considering he’s a rookie on a bad team, that’s not terrible. He is aiming to complete 60 percent or more of his passes in his fourth straight game. The Raiders haven’t had an explosive pass offense with speedster James Jones averaging only 12.6 yards per catch. He averaged 13.8 yards per catch with Green Bay last year. The Raiders throw a lot to their running backs. So watch Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, assuming he plays. The Dolphins have avoided most pass defense issues the first three games. But last week Alex Smith lit them up with three touchdown passes. Meanwhile the Miami defense is without an interception this year. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Raiders run the football: The Raiders have been atrocious running the football, which makes for an interesting matchup because the Dolphins have been terrible stopping the run. The Raiders are 31st in the NFL running the ball but there’s optimism in their camp that can improve with the return of Jones-Drew after he missed the past two games. Darren McFadden, once a first-round draft pick, once a speedy home run threat, has had multiple injuries catch up with him. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per rush. The Dolphins dropped from 13th in the NFL against the run last week to 20th this week after Knile Davis basically ran over them. The team is hoping for better linebacker play this week because it has been sub par on multiple levels for a couple of weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill starts as he has the previous 35 games since 2012 but there’s no guarantee he’ll finish because his poor play the past three weeks has put him in the crosshairs of coaches who want better QB play. The coaches also need better work from a wide receiver corps that is the highest paid group in the NFL. That group, along with Miami running backs and tight ends, leads the NFL in dropped passes. The Raiders are the NFL’s fourth-stingiest pass defense so far, allowing an average of 183.3 yards per game. Part of the reason is Oakland has invested heavily in veteran defensive linemen and pass rushers such as Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. They also added Khalil Mack in the draft and he is playing as advertised. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Dolphins run the football: Lamar Miller had the best day of his career last week when he rushed for 108 yards on 15 carries. The 108 yards was good. The number of carries is the issue. The Dolphins seemed to abandon the run even in a game they trailed by only six points in the fourth quarter. They beat the Patriots in the opener by rushing more than they passed but have lost the past two weeks throwing more than they run. And they’ve done this despite the fact the offensive line is better suited to running the ball. The Raiders have been solid defending the pass but they are 31st in the NFL against the run. They often over-pursue and their tackling has been at times suspect. So will the Dolphins get a clue and run? ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Special teams: If the game comes down to a battle of field goal kickers, the Raiders win. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the all-time greats at his position and last week connected on all three attempts, from 49, 47 and 37. Caleb Sturgis made two of three last week. The Dolphins need to correct their punt returner in that Jarvis Landry has to stop catching punts inside his own 5 yard line. Kickoff returns have been good for both Landry and the Dolphins so far. The Dolphins found themselves in a field position game last week and won that part of battle even as they lost the game. They should have the advantage again there with Brandon Fields. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Coaching: Dennis Allen has to figure out a way to get his team to play better when traveling east of the Central Time zone. The Raiders are 0-10 in that regard and tried to address the issue by leaving directly for the United Kingdom after playing at New England. Allen is on the hotseat. If he wins, his record will improve to 9-27. Last week was not great for Miami coaches. Bill Lazor called a poor game against Kansas City, anonymous players complained about Kevin Coyle’s game plan, and national pundits ripped Joe Philbin for his public handling of Ryan Tannehill. And having said that…8-27 glows in neon. ADVANTAGE: Miami.