This is it. Either the Raiders win this game Saturday or start thinking about their offseason plans. The Dolphins can’t exactly afford to lose either. While the Raiders are looking to get back into the playoff bubble, the Dolphins are clinging to the 7th seed. So, each team has plenty to lose should if they can’t pull out this win.
As is often the case, it will come down to matchups.
Raekwon McMillan vs Myles Gaskin
This time last year McMillan was lining across from Gaskin in practice. Stopping the run has been McMillan’s specialty in his two years in the NFL. Unfortunately, his skill set seems to be confined to that. Hence the Dolphins taking the deal the Raiders offered to salvage a fourth-round pick for their former second-round pick linebacker.
Gaskin leads the team with 477 yards rushing despite spending four weeks on injured reserve and then the past two weeks on the reserve/COVID list. In his one game back in Week 13 against the Bengals, he ran for 90 yards on 21 carries along with catching two passes for 51 yards. McMillan will be tasked with keeping another back from gouging the Raiders’ defense.
While attempting to prove he is more than just a run stopper, McMillan best at least provide that aspect to the Raiders defense. And honestly, that skill alone would a marked improvement on what the Raiders defense has provided this season.
Lamarcus Joyner vs Lynn Bowden Jr
With the Dolphins’ top three receivers all questionable for the game, Bowden could again be their top weapon. The rookie receiver was the Raiders’ selection at 80th overall in the third round in the 2020 draft only to be shipped to Miami before he had played a down for the Raiders.
Over the past three games, Bowden has been the Dolphins’ top receiver, compiling 17 catches for 160 yards. That’s more than catches and yards than Raiders top pick Henry Ruggs III has had in his last three games and more catches and yards than Bryan Edwards — who was taken one pick after Bowden — has had all season long.
Bowden usually lines up in the slot where Joyner will be tasked with trying to take him away from QB Tua Tagovailoa.
It’s certainly possible one or all of the Dolphins’ top receivers DeVante Parker, TE Mike Gisecki, and Jakeem Grant could return for this game. Even if they do, Bowden has been discovered as a weapon now and could be that much more motivated against the team that gave up on him so quickly.
Derek Carr vs Xavien Howard
It’s been an interesting ten days for Derek Carr. Leaving Thursday night’s game with a groin injury and being replaced the rest of the way by Marcus Mariota. Then returning to practice Tuesday and by the final injury report, he was removed altogether.
He wants to play and the Raiders seem like they will oblige him. Usually, Jon Gruden wants Carr to use his legs whenever possible, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be eager to test that groin, which means being one dimensional.
As long as Carr is putting the ball in the air he will either have to stay away from Howard or test the league-leading interceptor. Howard stands alone with nine interceptions this season. He’s also tied for second in the NFL with 17 pass breakups.
Trent Brown vs Emmanuel Ogbah
Along with his team-leading nine sacks, Ogbah has forced three fumbles. Two of those forced fumbles were on sacks that were then scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
Carr has been sacked 20 times this season and fumbled the ball 11 times. Along with his 7 interceptions, he’s turned the ball over 15 times. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have forced a league-leading 26 turnovers.
Ogbah almost exclusively lines up on the right side, and most of his sacks have come around the edge, making Brown’s top priority keeping Ogbah from crashing the pocket and disrupting the Raiders’ offense.
Rod Marinelli vs Chan Gailey
This is Marinelli’s second game as interim Defensive Coordinator. When he initially took over the job for Paul Guenther, it was on a short week, so not a lot of changes could be made. He has since had a long week to try and whip this defense into shape.
His opposing offensive coordinator will be Chan Gailey who has been coaching as long as he has. Both started their coaching careers in the early 70s. Gailey’s first NFL job was in 1985 as the tight ends coach and Special Teams Coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Marinelli in 1996 with the Buccaneers. In terms of total seasons of NFL coaching, Marinelli has 25 years experience to Gailey’s 21. Regardless, there’s a lot of football that has been coached between them.
Gailey has done an impressive job of coaching the Dolphins offense, first with journeyman veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and then rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Marinelli’s one advantage is a surprise as he will be calling the plays while utilizing Guenther’s playbook. Though he will be doing so without two of his starting linebackers including his middle linebacker.