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The Raiders are a few hours away from playing against the Miami Dolphins for the second straight year, today. Last year’s game was a 34-14 drubbing in South Beach and the Raiders will look to get even today. There is no doubt that those who were on the team last year will be using the loss as motivation in the locker room. If the Raiders want to win today, here are the keys they need to focus on:
-Continue to stop the run: The team’s defensive philosophy is predicated on stopping the run. The defense did a fantastic job against San Diego, limiting the team to under 40 yards rushing for the game. They will have a harder time with the Dolphins with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas in the backfield.
A year ago, the Raiders were killed by Reggie Bush who ran 22 times for an even 100 yards and a TD. In order to win today, they must slow the Dolphins rushing attack
-Get pressure on the QB: The Dolphins are starting a rookie in Ryan Tannehill and DC Jason Tarver likely worked on some exotic looks with blitzes and disguised coverages this week in order to confuse and harrass the rookie. The team must get pressure on the QB (not necessarily sacks but at least rush him to make quick decisions) in order to break up the timing of the passing game.
-Reduce pre-snap penalties: The Raiders ended with a not-terrible 6 penalties – less than the 9 earned by the Chargers – but most of them were simply the lack of focus that has characterized the Raiders in recent years. Tommy Kelly had two penalties in which he tried to time the snap, failed, and went across the defensive line. The offense added two more with a delay of game and a 12 men in huddle penalty. Allen has said he is making these mental errors a focus and is working to eliminate them. That must start today.
-Improve Special Teams: The Raiders had a numer of issues last week. Obviously the most costly was the injury to long snapper Jon Condo which resulted in multiple bad snaps to punter Shane Lechler in which he was unable to get punts off in time and gave up good field position. However, the special teams unit looked bad all around. There was the blocked punt, which was not the fault of backup snapper Travis Goethel but rather a coverage breakdown which allowed a Charger in unblocked.
Furthermore, the team struggled on kickoff and punt coverage units. They allowed a huge return on one punt that ended up being called back due to a block in the back by the Chargers but could have been a huge breakdown.
-Get the receivers more involved: Darren McFadden was the most targeted player in the passing game and also had the most receptions for the most yards. Starting wide receivers week 1, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rod Streater, combined for 7 catches for a total of 70 yards. Those numbers are good for one receiver but sub-par for two. QB Carson Palmer only targeted DHB 5 times and he came down with 3 of those. Streater caught only 4 of the 10 passes that came his way and he fumbled the ball right into the hands of a San Diego defender early on.
For this week’s game vs the Dolphins the Raiders receiving corps gets a boost with receiver Denarius Moore returning from a hamstring injury. Streater will likely move to slot, which is a better role for him anyway, and Derek Hagan will continue to cycle in, especially on 3rd downs where Palmer went to him frequently.
If he Raiders can improve these areas, while maintaining their successes otherwise, they can win this game. And this game is almost a must win as the team is already down 1 game and plays, after this week, 3 teams that made the playoffs last year: Pittsburgh, Denver & Atlanta. If the Raiders have any hope of making the playoffs this season, they must win this week and take at least one of those next 3, it would seem.