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In Friday’s key matchup, respective team strengths will be facing off in a big game for two struggling teams.
Raiders RB Darren McFadden vs. Dolphins front seven
Both the Raiders and Dolphins should be entering Sunday’s game with a similar mindset: this is a very winnable game. Miami fell 30-10 in Week One to the Texans, thanks in part to four second-quarter turnovers. The Raiders had special-teams disasters and couldn’t move the ball until late in their Week One home loss to the Chargers.
These two teams have played in each of the past two seasons, with the Dolphins having the clear upper hand, outscoring Oakland 67-31 in the two victories. Both games came late in seasons when the Dolphins already had been essentially ruled out of the playoff hunt, but they found their mojo against Oakland. Last season, the Dolphins jumped out to a 34-0 lead on their way to a 34-14 victory.
One key in the two matchups has been the Dolphins’ greatest team strength: their run defense. Last season, the Raiders managed 46 yards rushing on 14 carries. Michael Bush started in place of an injured Darren McFadden and had a 1.8-yard rushing average. Eighteen of the yards came from WR Louis Murphy and QB Carson Palmer.
The previous season, McFadden played and had eight carries for a whopping two yards. If you take out a 13-yard reverse by WR Jacoby Ford, the Raiders had 11 carries for three rushing yards in that game, including 10-1 rushing by the running backs. Yikes.
McFadden, though, did have seven catches for 63 yards on 10 targets in the 2010 loss, and he is not only the Raiders’ top offensive weapon, but he might be the best offensive player on the field on Sunday — no offense to Reggie Bush.
Against the Chargers in Week One, McFadden got 15 carries, but only had 32 yards. He did finish with 18 targets, tied with Colts WR Reggie Wayne for the most in Week One. Of those 18 targets, McFadden had 13 catches for 86 yards.
Up front against the run, the key for Miami is DTs Paul Soliai and Randy Starks plugging the middle, which can break up a run play and create a lane for MLB Karlos Dansby to fly in to make a play. Starks looked good last week and had two sacks in the season opener, and the Dolphins held Arian Foster to only a 3.0-yard rushing average on 26 carries. As a team, the Texans, one of the league's better rushing attacks, had 83 yards on 35 carries against Miami. Oakland will counter with a solid O-line, especially with the addition of ORG Mike Brisiel, but the Chargers’ front seven got penetration often last week, which disrupted Oakland’s offense, a unit that relied heavily on McFadden.
If Miami can eliminate McFadden as an option for the Raiders in the run and pass, it will make things very difficult for the Raiders, certainly based on what we saw on Monday night — though getting WR Denarius Moore back should help the passing game. Look for Oakland to be creative with McFadden to get him out in space, which puts the pressure on the Dolphins' linebackers to move well sideline to sideline in order to keep McFadden from running free.
These teams might have looked bad in Week One, and they might even be destined for the bottom of their respective divisions, especially based on early observations. But McFadden is one of the game’s top playmakers, and the Dolphins’ front seven should be considered one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL. Any football fan can appreciate watching two heavyweights go at it.