The Miami Dolphins are 2-0 in this young season, but they may be vulnerable to a Raiders team still looking for its first win.
The reason? Last week in a loss at Denver, Oakland’s passing game looked much stronger, especially the combination of Derek Carr to Amari Cooper. They hooked up 10 times for 116 yards. Cooper pulled in all 10 passes aimed in his direction.
The Dolphins pass defense, meanwhile, has been suspect. Miami ranks 24th in the NFL, allowing 270 yards per game through the air.
There will of course be other factors, too, that determine the outcome of Sunday’s game in South Florida. The Raiders’ defense has collapsed in the second half against both the Rams and Broncos, and Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, a good group of wideouts (Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant) and the running back combination of Kenyan Drake and ex-49er Frank Gore has been solid.
But if Carr is as sharp as he was last week, when he completed 29-of-32 throws for 288 yards and a touchdown – with zero interceptions – the Raiders could come out with a win Sunday.
What was most encouraging for the Raiders’ passing game was getting Cooper involved early and often. Cooper caught just one pass in the season opener on three targets, but the Raiders got their most gifted playmaker into the flow against Denver and it made a big difference. Carr says one factor in Cooper’s favor is the fact that the two of them communicate better than ever. Carr told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that he and Cooper communicated in that game against the Broncos better than they ever have. Throughout the game, they were talking about adjustments, what they saw and what plays might work, both on the sideline and in the huddle.
“I’ve been saying that all offseason, that our communication has gotten better,” Cooper told the Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara. “I think experience plays a big part. After playing so many years, you start to notice some of the things that defenses do and you talk about it and adjust.”
Cooper’s big game in Denver followed a big performance in Game 1 by tight end Jared Cook against the Rams (nine catches, 180 yards). Oakland is still waiting, however, for a big performance from Jordy Nelson, one of its biggest acquisitions this offseason. The former Packers wide receiver hasn’t been much a part of the passing game through two games, with five catches for just 53 yards. If Carr can get Nelson into the mix Sunday against the Dolphins, the Raiders' passing attack will be that much more dangerous.
When Nelson was asked this week about his quiet start, he noted Cook’s and Cooper’s big games.
“So maybe I’m in the rotation this week,” Nelson told the Chronicle. “We’ll see.”
NFL oddsmakers list the Dolphins as 3-point favorites. Kickoff Sunday is set for 10 a.m. (Bay Area time).