On the road again.
The Silver and Black are traveling in back-to-back weeks, and will face an undefeated Miami Dolphins team they're a tad familiar with Sunday afternoon.
Last season, the teams met at Hard Rock Stadium to kick off the second half of the 2017 season. It was a victorious effort for the Raiders, winning 27-24, courtesy of a three-yard touchdown run from Marshawn Lynch late in the fourth quarter. This is a different Dolphins team however; while they still have running back Kenyan Drake, Jay Cutler and Julius Thomas have both retired, and Jarvis Landry is now in Cleveland giving inspiring speeches in the wide receivers room.
With a few familiar faces, and some new ones now in the mix, here are three matchups to keep your eye on this Sunday.
Tahir Whitehead vs. Kenyan Drake
Through two weeks of action, Whitehead has finished as one of the top two tacklers on the Raiders defense. Against a high-flying Rams offense, Whitehead tallied seven tackles, one tackle for loss, and one pass defensed. He followed that performance up with a team-high six tackles against the Broncos, and has proved to be a solid run-stopper in the middle of the Raiders defense.
In Week 3, Whitehead will face a talented back who can attack defenses on the ground, and in the receiving game. Kenyan Drake has established himself as the most-talented back on the Dolphins roster, and while he's sharing carries with veteran Frank Gore, the former member of the Crimson Tide has shown he can hurt defenses in myriad ways. Against the Raiders in 2017, Drake rushed nine times for 69 yards, and added six receptions for 35 yards.
Whitehead and the defense will need to keep Drake stagnant in order to keep the Dolphins offense at bay. With No. 59's athleticism, I'm looking forward to watching him navigate around the field trying to limit Drake's production.
Jared Cook vs. Kiko Alonso
Derek Carr's connection with Jared Cook has been strong since No. 87 joined the team last year.
Cook led all Raiders receivers with 688 yards in 2017, and through two games in 2018 he's still leading the team in receiving yards with 229. Even though the Raiders fell to the Rams Week 1, Cook was on a roll, setting a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end with 180.
I expect the two to continue replicating their success against the Dolphins, but Cook will lineup against a linebacker that's capable of covering multiple positions. Kiko Alonso has had a productive career in the NFL since leaving the University of Oregon, and his 2018 campaign is off to a hot start. He's registered an interception, one pass defensed, two forced fumbles, and 19 tackles in a span of two games. Carr has been able to attack defenses in recent weeks by targeting Cook across the field or down the seams, so we'll see if he can sneak some passes by Alonso.
Raiders pass rush vs. Dolphins offensive line
The Silver and Black have struggled to generate much of a pass rush in the early going. So far, only defensive end Bruce Irvin and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst have been able to get home and bring down the quarterback; however, that could change against a Dolphins front that's allowed five sacks this year, which ranks 13th among all NFL teams. Ryan Tannehill has been hit in the pocket nine times, and I expect Irvin and Key to be able to bull rush the tackles and make Tannehill uncomfortable.
We talk all the time about how wreaking havoc against offensive line translates to opportunities in the secondary, and that will once again be the case Sunday. Forcing Tannehill to question his decisions, and force throws will translate to a quality defensive outing, but it has to start in the trenches.