1. December 26, 2020
In order to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2002, the Raiders will have to exorcise some demons.
Specifically, the demons of last year's devastating loss the day after Christmas in Allegiant Stadium. The Raiders infamously lost to the Dolphins 26-25 in Week 16 – with the kiss of death coming from Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders connecting on a 44-yard field goal, leaving one second left on the clock. The Dolphins were put into field goal range by a 34-yard catch by Mack Hollins with a facemask penalty on the same play.
"One of the worst plays I think the Raiders have had in their history," Head Coach Jon Gruden said Friday. "There's nothing we can do about that, we just got to hopefully close out games better than we did then."
Derek Carr has not forgotten about that game either. And he's been adamant this week in practice that his team hasn't forgotten either.
"There's no doubt in our mind they are going to be ready to play and bring it. And on top of that we didn't beat them, so we have nothing to feel good about," said Carr. "We can be happy about things that happened. We're excited about the start, and that's kind of where it ends because we've got a team coming in here that they did have our number, they did beat us.
"This week in practice, if we don't have our mindset the way that it has been in prior weeks then we'll fall on our face. But hopefully, and I believe especially after these first couple of days, that everyone's mindset is ready and we're ready for another fist fight. That's what the NFL is. You've got to set your mind for that at the early beginning of the week because they are going to come in ready to play."
2. A 'strange tough'
It was clear that Yannick Ngakoue was not at 100 percent against the Steelers.
The defensive lineman was still dealing with a hamstring injury he suffered in the overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens. Fortunately for Ngakoue and the Raiders, the injury wasn't as bad as it could've been and he returned to action the following week. Even though he still played a vital part in putting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, he only played 48 percent of the defensive snaps taken. His recovery seems to be trending upward though, after he was a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday.
"He's a captain on the team, he's always been tough," Gruden said about Ngakoue on Monday. "He's a strange tough. He's a really strange tough. This guy likes it, I think he enjoys the misery. Being double teamed, being chipped, the hot moments, pressure pack situations. I think he takes a lot of pride in performing at a high level when he's not 100 percent physically, and maybe the protection sliding to him, he finds a way. That's why he's one of our captains, that's why he's one of the premier rushers in the league."
With a Miami Dolphins defense that has allowed QB pressure on more than 50% of their dropbacks so far this season, expect Ngakoue and the defensive line to have a good day Sunday.
3. Know yourself, know your worth
Kenyan Drake was the Miami Dolphins' franchise running back. Until he wasn't.
After winning two national championships at the University of Alabama, Drake was selected in the third round by the Dolphins in the 2016 Draft. Drake played 54 games and accumulated nearly 2,500 all-purpose yards before he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. In Arizona, he became their feature back and had his best statistical season in 2020. He was not able to play the Dolphins last season when the Cardinals played them, due to him still overcoming ankle injury. Therefore, this will be the first time he'll go up against his former team and it will be in a Silver and Black uniform.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hyped for this game," Drake said Thursday. "Obviously, I got a lot of history with the Dolphins. A lot of the players that I played with and kind of came up with are still on the team. A lot of new faces as well. The coaching staff that was there my last year when I was traded is still there.
"No bad blood or anything, but definitely want to go out there and play to my highest capability. ... I want to go out there and prove my worth to this organization and what was when I used to play for them."
4. Who needs tickets?
Within three weeks of becoming a Raider, linebacker Denzel Perryman leads the team in total and solo tackles.
With four years of experience of playing under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Perryman has not missed a step in this Raiders defense. He compared coming into this defense as "picking up an old book again and just going over the notes."
This will also be a big game for him as he'll be playing against his hometown team. Perryman is a Miami, Florida, native and takes great pride in his South Florida roots. He was an All-American at the University of Miami before he was drafted by the Chargers in 2015. Needless to say, a lot of Perryman's friends and family are trying to find ways to take a trip from the "305" to see him play in the "702."
"People are talking about tickets. Ain't no trash talk, it's just, 'Hey man I might need a ticket this week'," Perryman jokingly said.
"I'm like, 'Alright, just find your way to Vegas.'"
5. Jacoby Brissett is the next man up
Jacoby Brissett will the man under center for the Dolphins on Sunday, starting in place of Tua Tagovailoa, who is out with fractured ribs.
The Dolphins have a quarterback that has played a lot downs in the NFL with Brissett. This Sunday will be his 33rd career start, dating back to his years of playing with the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. He was also the backup quarterback on the Colts team that defeated the Raiders 44-27 last season, and had two carries that game. Gus Bradley stated he's been impressed with Brissett since he coached him in the 2016 Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Bradley and the South Team won 26-17, with Brissett going 5-for-6 passing for 50 yards.
"He's a guy that's got great presence now," said Bradley. "I know in just a short period of time we were with him; the team really rallies around him. He's got that presence. Very confident. He's got a strong arm. He's a guy that we've got a lot of respect for. And when you watch him on tape, he had 24-for-40 and it could have been even closer to 30-for-40. So, he's a guy that makes very good decisions, plays smart, he's got a strong arm and I know he's looking forward to this opportunity."
6. Who's going to stop Darren Waller?
This seems like the question every NFL defense that has faced the Raiders the past three seasons has had to ask themselves. Yet, there still is no concrete answer.
The Dolphins are very familiar with Waller after his dominating performance against them last season. Despite the multiple looks and players they put against Waller throughout the game, it didn't limit his production. Waller finished the Week 16 game with five catches, 112 receiving yards and some pretty sweet highlights to go along with it.
In the Raiders' first two games this season, the success of Waller has once again been at the forefront of the Raiders offense. He currently leads the team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (170). The Dolphins' secondary with Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Brandon Jones and rookie Jevon Holland will have their hands full trying to contain Waller.
"He's a very explosive player," said Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. "He's very productive for them. He's a big target, he's fast, he can run. He's got great hands, good body control, very good tight end. One of the better receiving tight ends in the league for sure."