Oakland Raiders: Storylines @ Miami Dolphins
Bret Armstrong – Dec 3, 2011Like most things in life, the Oakland Raiders 2011 season has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. The recent arrest of middle linebacker Rolando McClain just adds to the pressure the Raiders face going down the stretch run potentially to the playoffs.
McClain is not the first Raider arrest this year either, he is the fourth. Louis Murphy, Mario Henderson, and Michael Bush all had run-ins with the law earlier this year.
The biggest trouble with McClain's arrest is that it happened during a time when he was in Alabama attending his grandfather's funeral. So not only was he away from the team grieving, but he was also not able to get back to go over any game-planning or situational studies to prepare for the Miami Dolphins.
McClain has been a vital part of the Raiders defense this year. Although defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has said that they don't "truly have a quarterback of the defense," it's plain as night and day the difference when McClain is playing to when he is not.
Against the Denver Broncos, without McClain, the defense was eaten up for 299 rushing yards in a 38-24 loss to their divisional rival that may play a toll in the final standings come January.
"We have got a couple. I will say we have got a couple," said Coach Bresnahan during his Friday media session. "But I am not going to tell you exactly what we are doing, but we have got a couple of options and you will see, and we feel very comfortable with it."
While McClain may still play, it's good to know that the Raiders are not relying solely on Blackstock this time around. Just like McClain should, the Raiders have clearly learned from the past mistakes.
Another Stingy Defense
First Minnesota, then Chicago, and although the Dolphins aren't from the NFC North, Miami's biggest strength at the present time is their disciplined and aggressive defensive unit.
Molded from the classic Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan 3-4 mold, the Dolphins defense has really come together as a unit this season allowing only 40 points in the last four games, three of which were victories.
During the last five games, they've only allowed their opponents an average of 72.2 rushing yards per game.
Coach Jackson was asked if the Raiders are focused on the team that is 3-1 in the past four games, or if they focus on the team as a whole this year. "The team thatâ€™s 3-1, balanced attack, thatâ€™s a really good football team" the coach said. "I mean what they did earlier in the year has nothing to do with what theyâ€™re doing now. Theyâ€™re playing good football, so weâ€™ve got to go down there and play our best football game.â€
Last season, the Raiders got brutalized by the Dolphins on their own field. Even newly acquired offensive coordinator Al Saunders knows what happened, â€œLast year, it was a difficult game. They came in here and the Raiders rushed for a total of 16 yards, 1.3 average and 13 of those yards was on a Jacoby Ford run."
Clearly, the Raiders have their work cutout for them Sunday.
Don't Discount the Offense
While the story of the Dolphins right now is defense, the offense should not be overlooked either. â€œI have said to our guys, reminds me a little bit of where Minnesota is," said Coach Bresnahan. "It is a very talented football team that has a lot of explosive players and they have stayed in every game, and itâ€™s just a matter of getting it done.â€
Brandon Marshall is one of the best receivers in the NFL and the Raiders know that from his days with the Denver Broncos. This season, he has quietly racked up 59 catches for 850 yards and three touchdowns. And while the touchdowns may not be where he wants them to be, he is fully capable of going off on a tear at any point in time.
Reggie Bush has been really good since he came back from injury too and he's picking up 4.3 yards per carry this season. He's on pace for a career year and his first ever 1,000 yard rushing season.
Quarterback Matt Moore has shown thus far that he may be their guy going forward. He is completing 63 percent of his passes and has seven touchdowns to just one interception in his last four games. The Raiders are also concerned about his ability scrambling being that they've had trouble recently with Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, and Caleb Hanie.
Perhaps the biggest weakness the Raiders will be able to take advantage of is the Dolphins inability to stop the pass rush. They've given up 34 sacks this season and the Raiders are really good at getting to the quarterback. If they can upset Moore early in this game, that could go a long way towards determining the winner.
Injuries Piling Up for Raiders
Darren McFadden (foot), receivers Jacoby Ford (foot) and Denarius Moore (ankle), defensive end Jarvis Moss (hamstring), running back Taiwan Jones (hamstring) and quarterback Jason Campbell (collarbone) were all ruled out for Sunday's game.
Rolando McClain (ankle), Trevor Scott (shoulder), Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring), Kamerion Wimbley (hamstring), and Tommy Kelly (toe) are all listed as questionable.
The good news is that for the first time in a long time, cornerback Chris Johnson is probably going to play. That will mean a lot to a secondary that has been riddled with injuries this season. But one player does not a team make and some of the names on this list are vital to the success of the unit.
That said, it is and it has been all year, a game of "Next man up" for the Oakland Raiders. Next to the New England Patriots (18) and the Houston Texans (18), the Raiders currently have the longest injury list in the NFL with 16 players listed.
"Somehow, some way come Sunday, some of those guys I know will be back out there playing and thatâ€™s all I can bank on," said Coach Jackson.
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