The Miami Dolphins defeated the LA Chargers 19-17 to start the season 1-0 while the Chargers sink to 0-2. An early Cody Parkey field goal was answered by a Younghoe Koo field goal and Melvin Gordon 1-yard TD run in the second quarter. The Dolphins trailed 10-3 at half time as Adam Gase appeared reluctant to open up the playbook with Miami’s offense largely dink-and-dunk. A 29-yard Kenny Stills TD grab was immediately answered by a record-breaking Antonio Gates TD catch (he now has the most TD passes by any tight end in NFL history). The Dolphins kicked three unanswered field goals with Parkey hitting a clutch 54-yarder with just 1:05 to go to give Miami the lead. Koo missed a 44-yard field goal wide right with 5 seconds left as the Dolphins held on to victory, with the Chargers losing a second game in a row after failing to convert a clutch field goal. Below are 5 key takeaways from the Dolphins 19-17 win over the LA Chargers in the StubHub Center:
1) Jay Ajayi is a legit bell cow and Miami’s O-Line looks good
Long gone are the days of 35+ passing attempts week-in week-out in Miami, a staple mark of the Dolphins franchise with Dan Marino under centre. Instead, Miami has returned to a recipe from their glory days in the 1970s when it was Larry Cskona, Mercury Morris and a strong run game that established everything else on offense.
Jay Ajayi finished 2016 averaging 105 yards per game over the final 11 games of the regular season and averaged 20.8 carries over that stretch. Jay Ajayi entered 2017 as Miami’s undisputed bell cow in the backfield and looked his normal rugged, electrifying, dogged self against the Chargers on Sunday. Ajayi carried the ball 28 times and earned everyone of his hard fought 122 yards. Averaging 4.4 yards on the ground against this Chargers front seven is an impressive feat and Ajayi’s longest run of 20 yards shows it was tough sledding for the back who is the feature point of this entire Dolphins offense. Ajayi seems to always get better as the game goes on.
The offensive line looked good in run blocking as LG Anthony Steen and RT Ja’Wuan James were particular stand outs. Steen pounded opponents upfront and was utilised at times on pull plays, creating holes in the second level for Ajayi to exploit. The presence of Mike Pouncey at center was huge for Miami as he yet again proved himself to be an elite run blocking center as one of the few able to pull and get into the second level to engage and take on linebackers. QB Jay Cutler also had ample protection at times and Miami allowed only 2 sacks against a team that boasts both Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Corey Liuget penetrating from the interior. Miami’s game plan of getting the ball out of Cutler’s hands early also helped neutralise LA’s pass rush.
2) Jay Cutler looked in control and his flashed gun-slinger nature. The Dolphins look loaded at wide receiver
Adam Gase appeared cautious with his play calling in the first half as Miami’s offense was predominantly dink and dunk with Jay Ajayi seeing a good deal of action early on. However, as the game progressed we started seeing the old gun-slinging Jay Cutler who threw up a few 50:50 contested balls on 1st down believing DeVante Parker could best his man for a jump ball.
Cutler wasn’t afraid to uncork a deep one in the second half and in his first game as a Dolphin attempted seven 20+ yard throws, completing three for 91 yards. Cutler looked lasered in and did not commit a single turnover as he was efficient but knew when to play the percentages and take calculated risks.
It is obvious which receiver Cutler trusts the most as he targeted Jarvis Landry a whopping 15 times with the slot-receiver hauling in 13 catches for 78 yards. DeVante Parker caught 4 balls for 85 yards off 9 targets while Stills caught 2 for 37 yards and a TD with TE Julius Thomas also catching all 3 of his targets for 26 yards.
Miami has a plephora of talent at the receiver position with Stills being a speedster who threatens to uncork a 45+ yard TD on any given play; Landry is a run after the catch slot-receiver who is also money on 3rd down; Parker is a tall, X-receiver who’s a red zone target and can win 50:50 contested catches.
3) Miami’s run defense looks much improved but the secondary and linebackers in nickel coverage continue to be a problem
The Miami Dolphin’s have been unable to consistently stop the run since transitioning from a 3-4 to 4-3 Defense way back in the 2012 off season. The Dolphins brought in LB Lawrence Timmons (who did not play Sunday) and DE William Hayes to help stop the run in 2017. Hayes was excellent anchoring against the run while Ndamukong Suh looks to be in All-Pro form. Rookie DT Davon Godchaux was excellent and played ahead of Jordan Phillips by the end of the game. Suh, Godchaux and Hayes made it difficult for RB Melvin Gordon to find any holes.
Kiko Alonso was excellent in snuffing out the run but struggled in coverage. Mike Hull was a liability but the undrafted rookie Chase Allen performed well and could challenge Hull for his OLB spot once Timmons is back in the line up. The problem for this Dolphins team is the same which showed up in the play off loss to Pittsburgh last year as the Chargers picked apart their zone defense too easily. Struggling to stick with receivers in coverage, DC Matt Burke was forced to send additional blitzers, however, these struggled to get home and Byron Maxwell again looked like a good no.2 compliment cornerback at best. Second year cornerback Xavien Howard struggled to cover LA’s multitude of weapons and the Dolphins look extremely susceptible in their nickel and dime packages. Miami needs to tighten its coverage if it hopes to challenge teams later in the year and look to go back to the play offs in 2017.
4) The Chargers couldn’t generate any push upfront
Braden Oliver’s 26 yard run halfway through the 2nd quarter was the highlight for LA’s run game as LT Russell Okung quickly pushed DE Charles Harris into the backfield before getting a crucial block on LB Kiko Alonso to spring Oliver free for a 26 scamper run. Apart from this play, the Chargers averaged 1.38 yards on 13 carries. The Chargers were unable to move Suh off the line of scrimmage and failed to open up holes for Gordon to run behind, he amassed only 13 yards off 9 carries.
Guards Matt Slauson and Kenny Wiggins while functional in pass protection struggled in the run game. Center Spencer Pulley and right tackle Joe Barksdale generated next to no push in opening holes for Gordon to run through. The lone stand out for this Chargers O-Line was Russell Okung who was able to hold his blocks well and did a good job protecting Rivers’ blind side.
The Chargers averaged only 2.9 yards off 22 rushes last Monday against the Broncos. The Chargers need to get it together upfront if they want to maintain a balanced offense and force safeties into the box, giving QB Philip Rivers’ speedy WRs one-on-one match ups on the outside. Crucially, in only 2 games, the Chargers have had the ball for 15 minutes 10 seconds less than their opponents – an outstanding amount. A strong run game should help control the clock and keep LA’s young defense off the field and rested.
5) New city, same problem – The Chargers can’t seem to win close games
Since 2015, the Chargers have lost 20 one possession games. This one is not about statistics but rather building and maintaining a winning culture where teams find a way to come out out of close games on the right side. This Miami Dolphins team has found that recipe and attitude under Adam Gase, while the Chargers are perennially a team that somehow manages to always lose close games. It doesn’t come down to play calling or coaching, this comes down to players stepping up and making plays.
Last week it was a blocked field goal which prevented LA from going to overtime with Denver. This week it was a missed 44-yarder and inability to put the game away as drive after drive stalled out as the Chargers were forced to rely too heavily on throwing the football. New Head Coach Anthony Lynn needs to turn things around quickly if this team wants to remain competitive and not find themselves in a hole in football’s toughest division.
This doesn’t necessarily mean looking for a new kicker – although rookie Koo has been less than impressive over the first two games. The Chargers need to win a game and make it into a habit which becomes infectious and contagious around the ball club. Lynn needs to rally his troops and gear up for a tough showdown at home against the white-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
Miami Dolphins 19-17 LA Chargers – Key Takeaways