Raiders' Focus: Breaking Down the Beat Up Dolphins

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Raiders' Focus: Breaking Down the Beat Up Dolphins

Nov. 22, 2010RAIDERS PAGE RAIDERS VIDEOMIAMI PAGERich Libero
Comcast SportsNet

After a physically nasty showdown in Pittsburgh, the Raiders will face another ex-1970s rival on Sunday when they host the banged-up Miami Dolphins.

A Raiders-Dolphins matchup used to represent a showdown between perennial powerhouses. These days, it marks a matchup of two teams trying to re-join the NFL Contenders Club. The conclusion of the game will yield some answers as to which organization is indeed closer to playoff reality in 2010.

The Dolphins enjoyed a Pyrrhic victory over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 14. The win lifted them to 5-4 and put them in residence with other AFC Wild Card hopefuls. But in the process of winning 29-17, they lost two quarterbacks, a starting center, their prized left tackle and a safety. The losses were too great to overcome in time for their Thursday home game against the Chicago Bears -- a nationally televised 16-0 loss. Additionally, the Dolphins lost backup center Corey Proctor to a torn ACL early in that game.

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning called only seven running plays against the Bears. The offense sputtered with untimely penalties, sacks and turnovers that conspired to waste excellent field position. All in all, the Dolphins performed like the 1-15 team from 2007.

Heres what the Raiders can expect on Sunday:

Coaching: The Dolphins are a potential disaster waiting to happen. A loss could send their season into a complete finger-pointing tailspin. Coach Tony Sparano draws the bulk of the criticism, but Henning is also deservedly under fire from both fans and the media. Hennings conservative playcalling is often mixed with puzzling, momentum-killing play selection. Miami ranks in the bottom five of the league in deep passing attempts over 21 yards. Expect lots of check-downs and wide receiver screens. Receiver Devon Bess is an excellent third down target with good yards-after-catch ability. Fullback Lousaka Polite is all but unstoppable on third- and fourth- and-short situations.

ESPN analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth hammered Henning after the loss to the Bears: "That's an awful job by that coaching staff regardless," Schlereth said. "Their best 11 guys are when they get into their Wildcat formation, no disrespect to Tyler Thigpen. They got into the Wildcat exactly zero times on Thursday night, they did not run the ball at all on Thursday night. ... I've heard excuses coming out of Miami, I've heard people talking about, 'You know, We have a beat-up offensive line.' All the more reason that you run the football. Let me tell you something, pass protection in this league is 10 times harder than run blocking: assignment-wise, picking up blitz, all those different things.

Bill Parcells stepped down from his role as head of football operations in September. The general manager and the entire coaching staff could be feeling the heat if they fail to conclude the season in strong fashion. Injuries will be used as an excuse, but the bottom line is that this team is not a playoff contender -- on paper or the field -- at this stage. Another season of housecleaning could be in the offing, but with its fairly soft end-of-season schedule the team should realistically finish around 8-8.

In terms of injuries, starting center Joe Berger is expected to be back in the lineup while the Dolphins have worked out a couple of left tackle candidates with the idea of shutting down Jake Long and his recently dislocated shoulder. Diva receiver Brandon Marshall tweaked his hamstring and might not be 100 percent for Sunday.

Miami Offense: Thigpen is a bit of a gambler with a solid arm and great scrambling ability. Raiders fans will remember him as an emergency starter for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams provide a formidable 1-2 punch out of the backfield, but the Dolphins have not run the ball effectively this season. The front office spent much of the offseason mysteriously tinkering with an offensive line that rolled up over 2,200 rushing yards last season. The once-strongest unit on the team is now officially eligible for national disaster relief. The Wildcat is also a shambles, averaging less than two yards per carry heading into the Tennessee game. The trendy formation resides in mothballs these days, although Henning did whip it out for three plays against the Titans after Chad Henne hurt his knee.

With Thigpens legs and Miamis experience running the Cat, fans and media expected all kinds of gadgetry against the Bears, but Henning kept things pretty vanilla. It will be interesting to see if that changes this week in Oakland.

Miami Defense: The defense has performed fairly well this season despite constant flux along the line and secondary. Sean Smith started at cornerback as a rookie, but lost his job in training camp to former first-rounder Jason Allen before winning it back. Allen was released before the Titans game and replaced by former Packer Al Harris. Cameron Wake continues to excel as the Dolphins' best pass rusher with 9.5 sacks. And nose tackle Paul Soliai is having a breakthrough season in his third year. Karlos Dansby, the teams best linebacker, did not practice Monday and may be nicked up.

Can the Raiders win? The real question should be: How BIG will the Raiders' margin of victory be? It wont matter how many days the Dolphins have to prepare. They have too many injuries to too many key players. The offensive coordinator has had an awful year, special teams punt protection and kick return coverage has been awful and the Dolphins are, at 5-5, a ticking time bomb. Throw in the overall length of the trip and the Raiders should be the lock of locks this week.
Rich Libero is the vice president of digital content for Comcast Sports Group and the author of the book This Could Be The Year: My 30 Years as a Miami Dolphins fan.

Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch

Cooper: 'I can go nowhere but up,' wants improved play down the stretch

The Raiders searched in vain for dynamic receiving production before Amari Cooper came along. Thousand-yard seasons proved elusive even in the golden age of passing stats, with a full decade’s drought after Randy Moss posted a four-digit total in 2005.

Cooper’s made that old hat.

The 2015 first-round pick has two 1,000-yard campaigns in as many seasons. Ditto for Pro Bowl honors. Those feats have become increasingly common, Cooper’s already in rarified air.

Cooper’s career is off to a solid start, but the No. 4 overall pick two years ago believes he can be much better. That especially true later in the season, where production has waned in his first two seasons.

He has nine 100-yard performances in two seasons, with just two coming after week 8. He noticeably struggled with injury at the end of 2015, but wouldn’t make excuses for a production drop last season.

Cooper wants to finish as strong as he starts, and has full confidence that will happen this season.

“Of course it’s been on my mind, but it’s a good thing to me because I feel like I can go nowhere but up,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “I know that I can have a lot more production than I’ve had in the past two seasons, so we’ll just see.”

Cooper has sought counsel from other NFL greats – Calvin Johnson has been in Alamenda this week, offering sage advice – and Raiders coaches have identified ways where he can be even more dynamic working with quarterback Derek Carr.

“Certainly there are things that we think we can do to help,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Also, for him, I think he has a much greater understanding. I thought last year was a step forward. I know he wants to continue to push. It’s great when you have a young, talented player that’s really eager to be special, wants to make a mark in this league. The way he’s working at it right now is outstanding. That’s all we want of our guys.

Cooper is a versatile presence, able to do most everything well. His route running was luaded out of college, though he can be a good deep-ball receiver and can create big plays after the catch. Cooper knows his hands much be more consistent, but the Raiders want to exract more from his natural talents.

“There are a lot of different facets to him,” Del Rio said. “Where his speed is really one of his greatest strengths, obviously, his route running ability was pretty doggone polished when he got here, but even that can continue to improve and the timing with Derek. We think he’ll continue to ascend.”

That’s the goal heading into his third NFL season now armed with greater knowledge of how he’s being covered and muscle memory of what went wrong at times later in the year.

Cooper believes detail work will help him this fall and winter, and that starts in earnest during the offseason program.

“It’s easy to forget the small things like high-pointing the ball, looking the ball all the way through and not trying to run before you actually catch the ball,” Cooper said. “Overall, I’m just working hard in the offseason so that you can come back and you can be dominant.

“I want to be the best Amari Cooper that I could possibly be. I want to be better than every other year that I’ve played football, so that’s how I am looking at this year.”

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Penn still haunted by only sack allowed in 2016; 'That play sticks with me'

Editor's Note: The above video is from Dec. 24, 2016.

Donald Penn was nothing short of awesome last season. The veteran Raiders left tackle proved impenetrable, allowing just one sack and 27 quarterback pressures in 676 pass-blocking snaps.

He ranked high among the NFL’s best left tackles at 33, engulfed a career renaissance that began after joining the Raiders three years ago. Penn made the Pro Bowl. He was a vital piece of a 12-4 team that helped the Raiders reach the playoffs.

He hasn’t reveled much in that. Penn’s driven by opportunities missed, and one mishap that haunts him still.

Penn locked horns with Indianapolis linebacker Trent Cole off the left edge during a Week 16 contest against the Colts, and slipped as he was tracking his man away from the pocket. Penn’s feet got tangled and the big man fell. Cole remained upright, darted in and sacked quarterback Derek Carr.

It was Penn’s only sack allowed all season. And Carr got hurt. He suffered a broken fibula that ended his season and realistic hopes of a Raiders playoff run.

Nearly five months have passed since that fluke play. Carr is healthy and a full participant in the Raiders offseason program. The Raiders offensive line might be better after allowing a league-low 18 sacks last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about as the Raiders enter OTAs and a mandatory minicamp. Penn can’t help but lament that isolated incident when Carr went down.

“You have to be an athlete. You try not to think about it too much,” Penn said Tuesday. “You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve taken that same set I don’t know how many times, on the same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me, I’m never going to blame the slip for happening. I should have blocked him and held on to him and taken him down with me. That play sticks with me.”

That isn’t all bad. It fuels Penn to continue growing as a player, even at 34 coming off an excellent Pro Bowl season.

“I’m going to try to do what I can do better and make sure it never happens again,” Penn said. “I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt in my life since I’ve been playing. That was a first. That’s something I take pride in. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Penn wants a different ending to this season. Last year the Raiders lost the AFC West crown and a shot to win the team’s first playoff game. Penn suffered a knee injury the following week that kept him from playing in the postseason.

The goal is to realize vast potential now that the Raiders offense is back healthy again.

“I’m all about karma and stuff like that,” Penn said. “Maybe (God is) trying to tell us that this is our year. We have to put in the work to get it. I know D.C. is happy, I’m dang sure happy to get him back. We’re growing and masterminding this offense trying to make it as explosive as possible.”