Remember the days when the Miami Dolphins relied on Dan Marino’s right arm to win games? In some of those years, Miami’s defense was so bad it couldn’t stop a watch if it removed the batteries.
Oakland (9-4) enters Sunday’s matchup in South Florida with the NFL’s No. 1 ranked passing game. Miami (8-5) has the No. 2 ranked defense overall in the NFL.
The Raiders return to the scene of a gut wrenching 18-15 loss to Miami last September when Jay Fiedler scored on a 2-yard run in the closing seconds. Oakland’s offense, however, could only muster 216 yards of total offense.
“They’re a darn good football team,” Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon said. “You look at them on film and they jump routes real good. They make adjustments on the move.”
The Dolphins have several impact players on defense. The defensive line features Tim Bowens at tackle with Jason Taylor, who has an AFC high 14 sacks, while Zack Thomas patrols the middle at linebacker.
“He’s unbelievable,” Gannon said of Thomas. “It seems like nobody blocks him. He’s a very smart football player that recognizes formations and personnel groupings.”
Then, of course, is Miami’s secondary that features Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain at cornerback and Brock Marion at safety. Oakland defensive end Trace Armstrong spent six years as a Dolphin before signing with the Raiders as a free agent before the 2001 campaign.
“They are pretty much a man coverage team,” Armstrong said. “Their front four does a good job. They’ll use about one or two fronts and a handful of coverages. They recognize routes and running plays.”
Given that Miami has a stellar defensive unit, the Raiders are not likely to have as many receivers running patterns with no defender within five yards. That scenario will lend itself to Gannon having to make tight throws. Fortunately for Oakland, Miami is minus-four in the turnover margin department.
“They play a lot of man-to-man and at times they double the outside receivers,” Oakland wide receiver Jerry Rice said. “When you play a lot of man-to-man there are big play opportunities so it’s a little give and take.”
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org