Every game in the NFL can be a pivotal one, but for the Miami Dolphins, the difference between 5-3 at the halfway point and 4-4 seems significant for playoff chances.
It’s also pivotal for the emotional state of the team.
Things seemed cheerier in Miami’s locker room last season, even at 1-4, then they did this week, at 4-3.
As one player solemnly said, when this was noted, not only did the Dolphins get smashed 40-0 in Baltimore last Thursday, but, “We lost Jay.”
Jay is Jay Ajayi, who sometimes gave the coaches headaches, bit did the same to opponents, too.
But running back is not even one of Miami’s top concerns against the Raiders tonight.
Here those are:
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said this week that if the opponent connects on a 70-yard pass play, blame the defensive line, not the corners. Wake’s point is that no player could blanket an NFL receiver for as long as that play takes and the pressure is on the well-paid line to create enough pressure to make that play impossible. It’s a great approach and Wake is a great teammate. But rookie Cordrea Tankersley and second-year corner Xavien Howard have to do a solid job, especially against Amari Cooper of Miami Northwestern Senior High School. Cooper, who mentioned watching former Dolphin Chris Chambers as a kid this week, has three touchdowns, including a 45-yarder. Last month, Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs. The goal tonight: Hold Cooper under 100.
Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler will try to limit big hits taken as the takes the field with two broken ribs. The Raiders actually haven’t recorded too many sacks, only 12, which ties for 28th in the league. Of course, we’ve seen teams with few sacks create their share of pressures against Miami’s underachieving offensive line. The Raiders defense has also created only five turnovers this season, which is 30th in the league. So it’s not like the Raiders are the 1985 Chicago Bears. In fact, the Raiders are without three cornerbacks tonight, which should create plenty of opportunities for Cutler (he should target DeVante Parker early and often) depending on how well he’s feeling. “We sure don’t need Khalil Mack coming clean or anything on *Cutler),” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said.
Michael Thomas did a nice job in relief of an injured Nate Allen last week and there’s not a ton of reason to think that is a drop-off of significance. But there is added pressure on the safeties this week because 1) Derek Carr has two excellent receiving weapons in Cooper and Michael Crabtree and 2) Tight end Jared Cook is dangerous, and the Dolphins have long struggled against athletic, pass-catching tight ends. Reshad Jones has been better against the run than against the pass, according to Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins need strong communication (a problem at times this season) in the back tonight, especially in the red zone. The Raiders are fourth in the NFL in red zone offense (they score a TD 65 percent of the time) and the Dolphins are last in the NFL in red zone defense (they allow a TD a stunning 75 percent of the time).
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