It was an emotional week for me in the NFL, as the Indianapolis Colts’ failed cover cost me a share of the first-place prize in the Westgate SuperContest six-week contest, but this is a brutal game. Instead of wallowing in pity, we must pick up and move on! This week, let’s take a look at the recent success of Miami and how it projects, and what Las Vegas’ offensive explosion against Dallas means for this week’s meeting with Washington.
Dolphins barely getting by
The two hottest teams in the league play in the AFC East, and one is the Miami Dolphins. After its 33-10 win over Carolina last weekend, Miami is 4-0 SU and ATS in its last four games with a + 50 point differential, and the offense seems to be getting better each week. However, a deep dive on the Dolphins’ four victories paints a different picture, one of a team getting by on smoke and mirrors and due for a letdown if the market props them up too high.
Let’s begin with this win over the Panthers. A brief look at the score tells you the Dolphins dropped their highest point total of the season on a Carolina defense that went into the week ranked sixth in defensive DVOA. On the surface, that is a brilliant accomplishment, but a simple glance at some numbers tells us otherwise. Miami averaged just 4.4 yards per play and 28.6 yards per drive for the game. One of the Dolphins’ touchdowns came on a 9-yard drive after an interception of Cam Newton, and the other came via a blocked punt. This has been the theme of Miami’s success throughout its winning streak. Over these four games, the Dolphins’ offense is averaging just 4.81 yards per play and 28.0 yards per drive. Those are very poor offensive numbers, but when your defense forces nine turnovers and scores two touchdowns, they are good enough to win games. However, turnovers are largely random. When they stop coming, what happens to your team when the offense can do next to nothing?
This also involves Tua Tagovailoa. In his last two starts, Tagovailoa has done a tremendous job of managing the game plan. He has completed 84.4 percent of his passes for 7.9 yards per attempt and thrown just one interception. He has also committed three turnover-worthy plays and continues to struggle with throws more than 9 yards downfield. In his last three games he has attempted just 12 passes 10 to 19 yards downfield, completing six for 9.66 yards per attempt, while committing two turnover-worthy plays and throwing one touchdown pass. Of his 77 pass attempts over the last three games, 59 have gone behind the line of scrimmage or no deeper than 9 yards downfield. Is this really a reliable offensive attack for the Dolphins? The betting market has pushed the line against the Giants to -3, and it looks like it will not be budging off that number, but I would be careful in running to the window. Miami has been barely getting it done on offense, and that is a dangerous team with which to lay points, no matter the opponent.
Raiders trending up
In the three games leading up to the Raiders’ win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the team that started the season 5-2 SU was a shell of itself. Las Vegas had averaged 14.3 points in losses to the Giants, Chiefs and Bengals, failing to cover all three. The offense had seemingly gone dormant, but signs of life were mixed in with the futility. During that losing streak, the Raiders had averaged 5.9 yards per play and 31.6 yards per drive, but seven turnovers and a conversion rate of 21.4 percent on third down held them back. Those issues were corrected in a big way Thursday.
Against the Cowboys, the Raiders’ offense erupted for 33 points in regulation, 6.6 yards per play and 509 total yards. Derek Carr worked the play-action passing game well, going 9 of 14 for 13.3 yards per attempt on an average depth of target 10.7 yards downfield on those attempts. It was the best offensive game Las Vegas has had in over a month except on third down, on which it converted just 3 of 13. The Raiders finally found their groove on offense, and this week they have an opponent against whom they can continue to improve in Washington.
The Football Team looked solid against Russell Wilson on Monday night, limiting the big plays downfield on which he relies. Wilson went just 4 of 8 on throws 10 or more yards downfield for 139 yards and committed a turnover-worthy play. However, that has not been the strength of Washington this season. Opposing quarterbacks have had a field day with the secondary, and as a result Washington is 30th in air yards allowed with a defensive average depth of target 8.4 yards downfield. This plays right into the hands of the Raiders’ passing attack. Carr’s average depth of target this season is 8.8, and he is tied for the lead league in touchdown passes 20 or more yards downfield. The Raiders showed up on Thanksgiving, and I would expect this matchup Sunday will allow them to do so again.