On the road again.
I just can’t wait to get on the road again – and hopefully fly back home to the Bay Area with a win this time.
The Oakland Raiders will have their hands full this weekend, not only flying cross country for their second road game in a row, but having to square off against a Miami Dolphins team that’s come hot out of the gates, boasting a 2-0 record in the early goings of 2018.
It’s an early kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium – 10:00 am PDT – so make sure you get up early with us; here are six things you need to watch for as the Silver and Black try to notch their first win of the young season.
1. Can the Raiders play a full 60 minutes?
Sitting at 0-2, it’s admittedly a bit of a challenge to find a bevy of positives, but here’s one; for much of the first two weeks, the Raiders have been close, like really close.
Let’s not forget that the Silver and Black were leading the Los Angeles Rams – a team on the shortlist of Super Bowl favorites – at the half, and really looked better than the Denver Broncos last week for much of the afternoon.
Now, I know that the NFL is a production-based league, and coming close doesn’t really account for much at all, but it is encouraging that the Raiders are showing glimpses of being the kind of team we expected to see in 2018.
Head Coach Jon Gruden and his squad will have a tough challenge ahead of them Sunday afternoon, but I’m looking forward to seeing if they can put together a quality 60 minutes in Miami.
2. Stopping the run
The play of Paul Guenther’s group through two weeks has been a pleasant surprise.
Last week especially, the Raiders defense looked like a group reborn in the first half against the Denver Broncos, not only limiting Case Keenum and his weapons out wide, but also forcing some timely turnovers as well.
However, if you’re looking for an area that the unit could improve on going forward, it would be stopping the run, as they’ve allowed the opposition to eclipse the century mark on the ground back-to-back weeks.
Through two games, the Dolphins are averaging north of 127 rushing yards a contest, so it’s no secret what Adam Gase’s team wants to do; something has to give at Hard Rock Stadium this weekend, hopefully the Raiders are on the winning end of this battle.
3. Jordy Time?
Week 1 belonged to Jared Cook, and last week it was Amari Cooper’s day to shine; will Sunday’s game be a big one for Jordy Nelson?
As of now, the nine-year veteran has just five catches for 53 yards, good for fifth on the team, but keep an eye on him this weekend against a Dolphins secondary that ranks just 24th at stopping the pass.
Look, I wouldn’t let Nelson’s perceived slow start give you any pause just yet, year after year, No. 82 seems to get his numbers; that said, a big day against the Fins would certainly be a welcome sight.
4. Getting after the quarterback
Once again, all eyes will be on the pass rush Sunday afternoon.
Through two games, the Silver and Black have tallied just two sacks – good for 29th in the NFL – and while Coach Guenther said Thursday that sacks don’t necessarily coincide with wins, getting pressure on the quarterback is something that remains at a premium.
“You’d always like to get a number of sacks,” explained Guenther. “One year we didn’t have as many. The next year we came back we had double the amount. It kind of feeds off each other. The kind of personnel you have. That’s really not the most important thing, but obviously it’s something that you want to get after the opposing quarterback.”
Maurice Hurst got his first NFL sack last week against the Broncos; let’s see if the rest of his pals along the defensive line can feast in Miami.
5. Unleash The Beast
Even though it’s only been two games, we’ve learned a lot about the 2018 Oakland Raiders, and while we still have much to learn, one thing that’s become abundantly clear is that Marshawn Lynch is still running with a purpose.
“The Beast” is averaging just under four yards per carry, and while his longest scamper of the early goings has been just 11 yards, Lynch is still routinely dragging defenders with him whenever he touches the ball.
The last time the Silver and Black played the Dolphins, Lynch found the end zone twice; hopefully Sunday’s game will result in similar riches for No. 24.
It’s only a matter of time until Lynch really gets rolling…
6. More weather? No worries
Last week, Derek Carr and Co., played in record-setting heat against the Broncos, and while Sunday’s game won’t be quite that gnarly as far as the heat is concerned, it’s still going to be a toasty one in South Florida this weekend.
As of now, it’s forecasted to be 89 degrees Sunday, paired with 72% humidity, and while that’s certainly a far cry from what the Silver and Black dealt with last week, the weather still has a chance to play a role in what transpires at Hard Rock Stadium.
Both teams will have to deal with the exact, same conditions in Miami, but I’ll be keeping an eye on which teams does a better job dealing with Mother Nature if she decides to come say hello.