The Dolphins return to the scene of one of the wildest finishes in the 2020 NFL season when Miami stole a late victory from host Las Vegas on the leg of Jason Sanders. At the time Sanders split the uprights, the Dolphins' NFL-best takeaway streak appeared dead at 20 games. Then, Sanders stepped to the tee and dribbled the football across the Allegiant Stadium surface. Needing to score on that kickoff return, the Raiders attempted an unsuccessful lateral giving special teams captain Clayton Fejedelem a chance to keep the streak alive, and he did. He fell on the football to preserve the win and rescue of one of the league's most-impressive streaks.
That streak can extend to 25 games Sunday with another Dolphins takeaway. Forcing multiple turnovers could be the key to another victory in Sin City. Las Vegas committed multiple turnovers in five games last year with a 1-4 record in those contests.
The onus will be on the defense for more than just generating takeaways. Derek Carr directs the NFL's top passing attack, overall offense, and No. 7 ranked scoring unit. His fourth year in Jon Gruden's offense has facilitated a level of comfort to produce a reactionary approach that is allowing the eighth-year quarterback to play fast and at the highest level of his blossoming career.
He’s just been so efficient. When you watch, he’s getting the ball out, but when there’s opportunities to take shots, he’s taking advantage of those and that’s on every single down and every single personnel and that’s what makes him tough. You turn the film on and they’re shifting, they’re motioning, they’re lining up in a bunch and then they shift and those same three guys all rotate to different positions in a bunch and they’re able to run routes whether it’s 13-personnel, 22-personnel and there’s multiple tight ends or the fullback in. Dolphins safety Jason McCourty
McCourty is a newcomer to a defense that limited this Raiders attack to 16 points through three quarters in that 2020 day-after-Christmas thriller. Las Vegas sprung big plays in the passing game to seize a late lead, but this new aerial attack has another gear with the emergence of second-year wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.
"I would say every play you kind of want to know where your speed threats are – just guys that can attack the deep part of the field so that goes for (Henry) Ruggs, that goes for (Darren) Waller," McCourty said. "Those guys can get on you in a hurry and I think it's just kind of knowing who you're going against."
The rest of McCourty's evaluation of the Las Vegas offense imitated what Head Coach Brian Flores said earlier in the week.
"It's an explosive team offensively, defensively and in the kicking game," Flores said. "They're well-coached and they've got some explosive players on both sides of the ball, all three sides of the ball. From (Darren) Waller to (Henry) Ruggs to (Hunter) Renfrow to Maxx Crosby to Yannick Ngakoue, they can create big plays really a few different ways. They're explosive."
Coach's reference to Crosby and Ngakoue is warranted -- the pair has the most combined QB pressures (27) of any duo of teammates in the National Football League this season. Crosby leads the league with 19, using a combination of technique and effort to chase down opposing passers. Ngakoue features a wicked speed rush that can instantly force quarterbacks off the spot and out of the structure of the play call.
One way to negate the rush is the run the football, oftentimes directly at said rushers. Through two games, opponents have run the ball eight times for 67 yards behind either tackle position when facing Las Vegas (per Pro Football Focus). If Miami can commit to the run and consistently produce on the ground, then the offense can remain balanced and protect quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett will make his first start for his hometown Miami Dolphins. His 1.4 percent interception rate is the lowest all-time among NFL quarterbacks with at least 900 career attempts.
If taking the ball away on defense is the key, protecting it on offense is paramount. Since the start of 2020, Las Vegas is 8-3 when the defense turns over the opponent and 2-5 when they don't generate a takeaway.
Miami are winners in seven of the last eight contests against Las Vegas, but the Raiders lead the all-time series 20-19-1. A win Sunday would even the all-time series and get Miami to 2-1 to open the season, the best three-game start since 2018.