After beating the divisional rivals New York Jets the Miami Dolphins must feel good heading out west to play the San Diego Chargers on what will be an 11-day road trip to the West Coast. The Dolphins will look to prove their worth as a wild card contender in this years play off race. The following is my preview of this weeks trip to San Diego…
Dolphins Offense vs. Chargers Defense
Last week RB Jay Ajayi had 111 yards off 24 carries (4.63 y/a) with 1TD against the NFLs best run Defense. This week’s match up against San Diego will be similar to the Jets game. San Diego is 28th in overall Defense and has allowed the 4th most passing yards but is the NFLs 9th best run Defense. The Chargers have been involved in shoot outs all year and they have allowed the 5th most amount of points (27.9 per game). The Dolphins will therefore look upon this favourable match up and hope to establish the ground game early and take advantage of the Chargers banged up secondary through the air. However, even against New York who have struggled massively this season, the Dolphins were reluctant to light up the box score through the air and a similar tight game plan could likely occur against San Diego. The Dolphins will also have to contend with a Defensive unit that despite missing many key starters still ranks 2nd in takeaways. The San Diego Chargers are one of only two teams with a takeaway in every game this season, the Dolphins clearly need to win the turnover battle and not play from behind on the road.
The Dolphins may catch a break as rookie sensation DE Joey Bosa is battling an ankle injury and it is unclear if he will suit up Sunday or if he plays whether he will be his disruptive self. The Dolphins O-Line will be tested, however, this team ranks 15th in sacks (1 place behind Miami) and San Diego’s front seven is not as dominant as the units Miami has faced over the past three weeks. It will be interesting to see whether DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry can open against Casey Hayward, Brandon Flowers and Steven Williams (Flowers and Hayward are playing well this year). Ultimately it will come down to whether Ajayi can go over 110+ yards on the day and if he, Williams and Drake can establish the run game which should open up plenty for Tannehill to exploit in play action as he will hope to find favourable match ups for big plays down the field.
Dolphins Defense vs. Chargers Offense
The Miami Dolphins are facing a high-powered Offense this week as the Chargers rank 2nd in points scored (29.7 per game), 5th in total yards, 4th in passing yards, 10th in rushing yards and 3rd in number of total plays (something that bodes badly for this Dolphins Defense). The Dolphins priority heading into the game should be to try and make Philip Rivers one dimensional. To do this the Dolphins will need to limit the production of RB Melvin Gordon. Gordon has 768 yards off 193 attempts averaging 4.0 yards per carry and 85.3 yards per game with 9 TDs. He also has 28 catches out of the backfield where he averages 10.1 yards to go along with two receiving TDs. If the Dolphins Front Seven can dominate the line of scrimmage it should eliminate Melvin Gordon’s big play ability and San Diego’s ability to sustain and lengthen drives. The D-Line was dominant in last weeks win against New York and the Linebackers should improve this week as they will most likely review the film of a few instances where Linebackers missed their gap assignments and allowed big holes to emerge. If the Dolphins can shut down Gordon on first or second down it will allow the Dolphins D-Line to pin back its ears (a favourable match up against this San Diego O-Line) and go after Philip Rivers who will be looking to throw the ball around.
Getting back to the subject of Linebackers; a key match up will be covering both rookie Hunter Henry and 8x Pro-Bowler Antonio Gates. Kiko Alonso and Donald Butler have both played well in coverage recently with Alonso logging two passes defended last week. With Safety Reshad Jones out for the year the Dolphins will most likely rely on Isa Abdul-Quddus who has proved himself as able to cover Tight Ends, however, Henry and Gates are both mismatches. The Dolphins could again get lucky as Hunter Henry missed Week 9’s game and is questionable to play vs. Miami.
Miami’s secondary has been poor most of the 2016 season and it is certainly going to be a difficult task going head-to-head with one of the NFLs best Quarterbacks as gun-slinger Philip Rivers will look to light up the box score Sunday. Rivers has the 4th most passing yards and 5th most passing TDs this season. Rivers has also turned Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin into serviceable receiver and Tyrell Williams has become on the Leagues biggest big play threats this season. Philip Rivers has, however, been sacked the 5th most this season (22 times) and this Dolphins Defensive Line which has been disruptive the past few weeks should have its ears pinned back on obvious passing situations and downs.
It is going to be a big ask for the Dolphins Defense to slow down this Chargers offense, yet if Miami is able to stuff the run and pin back its ears on passing situations it should hopefully plague and disrupt Rivers all day.
Jay Ajayi vs. Chargers Front Seven
Jay Ajayi is the bell-cow, focal point – whatever you want to term it – for this Miami Dolphins Offense. Everything runs through and starts with him. The Dolphins have won three straight by prioritising the run game and Ajayi has proved that he can carry the load for this Dolphins team by moving the sticks and also punching the ball into the end zone. Ajayi has excelled in Miami’s zone blocking scheme and the Dolphins will look to feed him Sunday. The Chargers play a 3-4 Defense which means that Ajayi will have to content with two Inside Linebackers and athletic Outside ‘backers to make miss at the second level. Yet, Ajayi went up against the 3-4 Buffalo Bills a couple of weeks ago and shredded them. The problem now is that every team knows it all starts with Ajayi and will therefore be loading the box against Miami bringing seven or eight guys down to counter the Dolphins running threat. This is why this next match up is also a big key:
DeVante Parker, WR vs. Steve Williams, CB
When Miami go three wide Casey Hayward will most likely line up against Kenny Stills and Brandon Flower will take Jarvis Landry in the slot. Parker will have the most favourable match up with Steve Williams. It will be an important match up as Miami will hope Parker can get open by beating his 1-on-1 match up and creating separation. Parker has so far been quiet this season (apart from week 2 @ New England). Parker proved towards the end of last season that he is worth his 1st round tag as he is a tall receiver who is able to highpoint the football and climb over coverage. Parker could be a big play weapon for Miami as well as a target in the red zone if Miami want to exploit match ups on the outside. If Parker goes over 100 yards it will draw attention and allow Miami’s two key playmakers RB Jay Ajayi and WR Jarvis Landry to be more productive and lighten their load. Ultimately Parker needs to step up and be the ‘chunk yardage’ player the Dolphins thought he was coming out of Louisville and even if he doesn’t manage to create separation Tannehill could simply throw the ball up and allow the talented young receiver to go up and make a play. If he and Stills produce a few big plays down the field it will force San Diego into playing two deep safeties and open up underneath routes for Landry and also take defenders out of the box for Ajayi.
Miami’s Front Seven vs. Melvin Gordon, RB
Gordon has been one of top 3 Running Backs in the NFL this season. He is averaging 4.0 yards per carry and 85.3 yards per game with 9 TDs. The Dolphins Defense has been poor against the run most of the season and they will need to shut down Gordon all game long and leave San Diego and Rivers in obvious passing situations by making it 2nd or 3rd and long. If Miami can limit Gordon to under 70 yards rushing and keep him out of the end zone then the Dolphins should come away with the W. Miami’s Linebackers will spend most of the week reviewing the game film against New York where they missed their gap assignment and led to big plays on the ground. Look for a bounce back performance and for Miami to make a statement in run Defense this Sunday.
Jermon Bushrod, RG or Ja’Wuan James, RT vs. Joey Bosa, LE
If Bosa plays and plays to the level we have come to know during his short NFL career then it could give the right side of Miami’s offensive line a headache all day. Bosa is explosive around the edge and has proven that he knows how to get after the Quarterback as well as disrupt the run game by hitting runners in the backfield. If Bosa plays then the Dolphins might need to bring in a TE or RB to help chip block him otherwise it could ruin Miami’s game plan on Offense. This will be a crucial match up if Bosa plays Sunday.
Also look out for:
Kiko Alonso, LB or Donald Butler, LB vs. Hunter Henry, TE or Antonio Gates, TE in coverage.
It will be a close game between two AFC teams who are lurking around the final wild card spot. It is a game both teams must win if they want to fight for a play off spot. The Dolphins have won the last three and after this weeks game in San Diego have a very winnable slate with @ Rams, vs. 49ers, @ Ravens. The Dolphins have struggled playing on the West Coast and have not won there since 2010 (losing 4 straight). The Dolphins will play travel to San Diego Thursday and then stay over in California before playing the Rams in L.A. the following Sunday. As a Dolphins fan I hope this team with its new found identity can again run the ball well and that the receivers can create more separation than they managed against the Jets. However, this San Diego team is a good football team that no matter who gets injured seems to find a new “guy” to either run, tackle, or catch the ball. The Dolphins need to shut down Melvin Gordon and force Rivers into obvious passing situations where this Dolphins D-line can continue its dominant showing. San Diego is a good football team and Miami will need to win its matches in all three phases in order to hopefully put this team at over .500 for the first time since Week 1 in 2015 – Fins Up!