Miami Dolphins (4-4) @ San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Sunday November 13, 4:05 (EST) – Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Betting Line: Chargers -3.5
Winning three out of four on the extended home stand was a necessary prerequisite for the Dolphins to salvage the 2016 season. Beating San Diego on the road is the next requirement for this playoff run to really gain some traction.
With head to head tie-breaking advantages in favor of the Bengals and Titans over Miami currently, dropping one to another AFC wildcard contender in San Diego is not tenable. The Dolphins are in a good position with all four wins coming in conference and the opportunity to eventually over take Denver or Kansas City is there with the conference record tie-breaker.
But that all goes away with a loss on Sunday in sunny San Diego.
The Dolphins are running the ball as well as anyone in the NFL elevating the team’s ranking to 6th in the league in yards per game and 2nd in yards per carry.
Ryan Tannehill and the offense haven’t turned the ball over in three games and the defense is standing strong at the end of games. The plan of getting an early lead, playing safe on offense and pressuring the quarterback has been a winning recipe the last three games, but the Dolphins will need more facing potential future hall of fame quarterback, Phillip Rivers.
Rivers is on the level of Tom Brady in regards to his cerebral approach to the game. He is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. The offense runs through him, first and foremost, as he’s calling plays at the line with his next five moves in mind.
He was mic’d up for the game last week against the Titans. As he’s barking his orders he is telling his teammates what is going to happen before they even break the huddle. He’s playing at an elite level and the Dolphins need to prevent his quick release passing game from doing too much damage.
The Chargers injury list grew from its already substantial size this week. Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Dexter McCluster were already missing, but it looks like they will be without Travis Benjamin as well. Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams, however, have quickly emerged as trusted targets for the former North Carolina State gunslinger.
These wide outs have earned that trust with an ability to win the route from the jump. Each has great feet and can handle the press coverage Miami will likely throw at the Chargers.
The ball comes out of Rivers’ hands so quickly that it can negate any advantage the Dolphins have from a pass rushing standpoint.
Melvin Gordon has emerged as a touchdown scorer and now a big play threat as he rattled off 196 rushing yards in the win over Tennessee. But his most valuable asset could be in the passing game as he stays on the field as a trusted last line of defense in pass protection. Gordon played 65 of the 80 snaps for the Chargers last week and has played 481 of the 619 plays during the 2016 season.
Limiting Gordon is an absolute necessity. If the Chargers find balance, the Miami defense won’t stand a chance.
Joseph Barksdale and King Dunlap are better run blockers than perimeter pass rush specialists at the two tackle positions. Barksdale isn’t the most fleet of foot and could struggle with the speed rush of Cam Wake but, let’s be honest, everyone struggles with Wake’s explosion.
The interior of the offensive line isn’t much different. DJ Fluker, who has found a home at guard after busting at the tackle position, is a man mover at 340 pounds. Matt Slauson’s play has improved at center and he hasn’t missed a snap this year. Miami’s ability to handle these guys on first and second down is absolutely crucial to winning this game. If the Chargers can run at all on early downs, the defense will be sucking wind all afternoon.
Jordan Phillips needs to have another standout game and engage these big bodies preventing them from getting to the second level as well as opening things up for Ndamukong Suh. Kiko Alonso is outmatched from a size standpoint in this game and needs to be kept clean.
The corners play a lot of off coverage against the Jets but I think they need to play more bump and run in this game. Michael Thomas coming in for Reshad Jones has led to a lot more two deep shell looks for the Miami defense, but playing man against the Chargers is the best way to defeat them.
Joey Bosa is playing full time now and causing complete chaos for opposing passing offenses. His pass rush prowess has galvanized the San Diego defense and allowed their ball hawking corners to play an even more aggressive brand of football. Casey Hayward has pick sixes in each of the last two games and Brandon Flowers is having a resurgent season.
Where the Dolphins can neutralize all three of these stalwarts is in the ground game. Going back to his time at Ohio State, Bosa has not been a terrific run defender. With Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert playing at the level they are, the runs off the left edge should play in Miami’s favor.
The Chargers linebacker group is depleted with Manti Te’o out for an extended period and Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown likely to miss this contest.
The Dolphins 13 personnel (three receivers, one tight end and one back) could make a comeback this week as the Chargers nickel defense really struggles against the run.
I said last week that Miami needed to dial up a long pass to Kenny Stills to beat the Jets. Stills left the game with an illness and the Dolphins showed an even heavier emphasis on the heavy packages with Marqueis Gray and Dominique Jones. We learned that those players are more trustworthy, in the coach’s eyes, than Leonte Carroo.
Devante Parker needs to start earning his keep. I expect the Dolphins game play to be heavily influenced by the running game, yet again, but Parker needs to make a play. Last game, all of his receptions were manufactured with quick hitter passes. He needs to get vertical and make a big play for this passing game as he deals with two corners without elite size in Hayward and Flowers.
I’m sticking my neck out and saying Parker will have a few plays, some type of 5 catches for 80 yards stat line.
I would go with more, but I think Jarvis Landry is going to be the center of the passing attack and rightfully so. He made three big plays last week and then was kind of forgotten about the rest of the game. The Chargers secondary isn’t the best tackling group in the league, and with so many linebackers out, Landry figures to make some yards after the catch.
That poor tackling doesn’t bode well for the Chargers dealing with one of the toughest backs to bring down in the league. Jay Ajayi could have another big afternoon and become the first Miami running back to tally four consecutive 100 yard games since Ricky Williams did it in 2002.
The Dolphins need the running game to work simply for the sake of keeping Phillip Rivers on the sideline. Last weeks’ time of possession was split nearly evenly and Miami needs to do a better job of cleaning up defensive penalties on third down to end drives.
Traveling to the west coast is not an easy task. Coming off two thrilling rivalry wins make this a difficult spot for the Dolphins. The Rams and 49ers are up next so there is no reason to think this team is looking ahead.
The Chargers just beat Tennessee and travel to Houston next week, so there’s no trap game scenario here for either team.
However, San Diego voted against a new stadium deal that would keep the Chargers in town for the foreseeable future. The team’s future is in question and this could play to the level of energy in the stadium and help the road team.
If Miami runs the ball and contains Melvin Gordon, this game will be a victory. Phillip Rivers is capable of beating teams by himself and I think the Dolphins man coverage could cause some issues. But I think the Dolphins are due for a couple of offensive turnovers and won’t get any from Rivers. The turnover battle will decide a tight game.
We are full of content right now as the Phinalysis Podcast just dropped a new episode as did Welcome to Perfectville. So if you’re keeping track, that’s three blog posts and three podcasts this week for the Perfectville family – proving that we are the best coverage for your Miami Dolphins.
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