2-0, once again. And this time, it feels different.
The Las Vegas Raiders picked up their second-straight win to begin the season. The wins came against great competition in the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers -- two playoff teams last season.
The Raiders now turn their attention to the 1-1 Miami Dolphins, who defeated them last season by one point. The Dolphins will be a great challenge for the Raiders defense as Miami has a solid nucleus in receivers DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki and running back Myles Gaskin, who produced 169 yards of total offense and two receiving touchdowns against the Raiders last season. What makes this Raiders team different than last year is the additions they've added on defense with Denzel Perryman, K.J. Wright, Solomon Thomas and rookies Tre’von Moehrig and Nate Hobbs. If the defense can hold their own against this young, talented Dolphins offense, they could get their proper revenge on them in Allegiant Stadium on Sunday.
Another week, another few great matchups. You know the drill.
Henry Ruggs III vs. Xavien Howard
Last season when the Dolphins came to Las Vegas, All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard exerted a lot of effort on Darren Waller. Now, the Raiders have an emerging second-year wideout that will need a lot more attention in Henry Ruggs III.
So let's run down what we already know. Ruggs is faster than a toddler running out the kitchen after getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar. And Howard has developed a reputation of having state penitentiary lockdown abilities on receivers. The Dolphins cornerback has led the league in interceptions two out of his six seasons in the NFL and was rightly compensated for his efforts in the offseason. So far this season, he already has two pass deflections, an interception and a forced fumble. He also clocked in at No. 17 on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2021 list, the second highest ranked cornerback on the list, behind Jalen Ramsay, and the only Dolphin to make it onto the rankings.
"Xavien Howard, I don't think he gets enough credit if I'm honest," quarterback Derek Carr said Wednesday. "In the scheme that they run – especially last year [where] he had 10 interceptions in that scheme – is ridiculous. The fact that he's not talked about as one of the No. 1 corners in the league, up there with Jalen [Ramsey] and Stephon [Gilmore]. ... This guy is unbelievable.
"I'm always confident in our guys. I'm always going to give them chances and you're not going to be stupid about it. You're going to try your best to not give them a free one out there, but you're also going to let your guys compete. ... We've always taken the mindset that no matter who's out there, we're just going to compete and be who we are."
But just because Howard is legit, doesn't mean Carr will be scared to take deep shots against him with Ruggs. Honestly, it's hard to not take a deep shot with Ruggs versus any cornerback in the league at the moment. The former Alabama receiver is averaging a whooping 22.7 yards per catch this season and is second on the team in receiving yards – only behind Darren Waller. Ruggs is also coming off a great showing against the Steelers with five receptions, 113 receiving yards and a touchdown. Statistically, that was his best game in the NFL since his 118 yards and a touchdown in the victory against the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
After an entire offseason of dealing with criticism for not getting a lot of catches his rookie season, it seems like Ruggs is starting to make an impact in the Raiders offense, with Carr currently leading the league in passing yards. Howard is such a vital part of the Dolphins secondary that he will still probably cover Bryan Edwards and Waller on a few possessions as well. However, with what Ruggs has proven he can do as a deep threat, Howard will certainly see his fair share of snaps lining up against him.
Deep dive off the line of scrimmage
When it comes to both teams' struggles so far this season, a lot of it is related with controlling the run game.
The Raiders, banged up with injuries on the offense line and to Josh Jacobs, have struggled to get a consistent run game going on defenses. Miami's defense on the other end has struggled a lot in stopping the run. Through the first two weeks of action the Raiders are currently tied for the second-lowest total rushing yards in the league (134 yards). The Dolphins defense have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league (268 yards).
While the Raiders are 2-0, if they want to take their offense to the next level, they must be able to produce an efficient run attack. That could come from Jacobs if he's healthy, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber or even Trey Ragas, the undrafted rookie from Louisiana-Lafayette who was elevated from the practice squad the first two games of the season.
"You have to be honest with yourself and say, 'You know what, it's going to be hard to run the ball today.' I don't care if we have Walter Payton or Jim Brown in their prime, it's hard to run the ball against certain defenses," Head Coach Jon Gruden said about the lack of a running game so far this season. "With that being said, we have to find other ways to move the ball. ... Against Miami it's going to be a very, very difficult day throwing and running, and the tape proves that."
Pick No. 6 vs. Pick No. 167
Jaylen Waddle was the second wide receiver taken in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Miami Dolphins. Nate Hobbs was the 25th cornerback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Despite being taken five rounds apart from each other, none of that will matter when the two rookies line up against each other Sunday.
The Dolphins' rookie sensation slot receiver and the Raiders' sleeper nickel cornerback have had very different paths to this game. Waddle was a National Champion and All-SEC wideout at the University of Alabama with 17 receiving touchdowns in his three seasons in college. Hobbs was on the brink of being dismissed from Illinois, scratching and clawing with an exceptional Pro Day to be drafted, and made a name for himself through Training Camp and the preseason. Hobbs may have been selected 161 picks after Waddle, but he's had just as much success than his adversary has in the NFL so far.
"I was talking to my mom yesterday, she was like 'I like that No. 39, he's really good,' and when you have a nickel that can tackle, that can cover, it looks like a savvy vet out there," K.J. Wright said about Hobbs on Wednesday afternoon. "He looks really good, but with him that means stay consistent, don't let this early success get to your head. Just stay consistent and keep doing your thing because the nickel position is one of the toughest positions out there in the slot."
Hobbs currently has eight total tackles within his first two games this season. He was also given a 78.1 PFF grade Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers – the best rookie cornerback grade for the week. Waddle, on the other hand, has also had a productive start to his rookie season. He's immediately become one of Tua Tagovailoa's favorite receivers before the quarterback was injured, rekindling their Roll Tide connection. Waddle has caught 10 passes out of 13 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. He currently has a 70.3 PFF grade on the season and is the Dolphins' leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
Waddle has not been a walk in the park for any cornerback he's faced, dating back to Alabama. However, Hobbs has not been a walk in the park for any receiver he's faced since his days at Illinois. It should be one hell of a matchup between the two rookies.
View director of photography Michael Clemens' top picks of black and white photos from the Raiders' Week 2 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.