The Fins are in unfamiliar territory at this point in the season.
The Miami Dolphins (5-3) are in the midst of their best regular season start through nine weeks, as the team started with the same record during the 2014 season, according to Pro Football Reference.
If the season ended today, Miami would hold the 7th and final Wild Card spot in this year’s playoffs. With the way the team has been playing over the past month, people outside the Dolphins organization are starting to believe they can get into the dance.
This week, the Fins will do battle with yet another West Coast team in the Los Angeles Chargers (2-6), who are a lot better then their record would suggest.
Let’s preview this week’s action, and see what must happen for Miami to extend their winning streak!
As always, questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7
When, Where, What Else?
The Fins will welcome the traveling Chargers to Hard Rock Stadium Sunday, with kickoff slated for 4:05 PM EST. At the time this is written, forecasts show mostly sunny skies, a high of 83 degrees, a 76% humidity index , winds ranging from 10-15 MPH, and just a 10% chance of rain.
Home field advantage has taken a toll across the league this year due to the lesser amount of fans allowed in venues across the league, and that has been true regarding the Fins.
Miami currently holds a 1-2 record at home this year, dropping their first two games at Hard Rock against the Buffalo Bills (7-2) and Seattle Seahawks (6-2) before shutting out the hapless New York Jets (0-9) in Week 6.
Miami has played Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn twice in his tenure since the 2017 season, with Miami victorious in the first meeting during his first year. Lynn and the Chargers won the rematch last September by a score of 30-10, but it’s safe to say this is a much more talented team.
Lynn knows the Dolphins well, as he spent time in various roles with the New York Jets from 2009-2014 and the Buffalo Bills in 2015-2016.
The teams currently hold an all-time record of 18-16 (including 2-2 in the post season), with Miami winning two of the last three matchups dating back to the 2016 season, according to Pro Football Reference.
This has nothing to do with the outcome of the game, obviously, but with the Fins slated to wear their white throwback uniforms, this is shaping up to be a nice game visually, as the Chargers’ uniforms are also widely regarded as the best in the league.
Tale of the Tape
Miami Dolphins (5-3):
The Dolphins officially put the league on notice last Sunday, defeating the red-hot Arizona Cardinals (5-3) by a score of 34-31.
While the Miami defense conceded a grand total of 442 yards, with a bevy of those yards coming on deep passing strikes and on the ground (178 yards), they made enough plays to win the game and played good complementary football.
Miami’s bend-but-don’t-break defense works because of how opportunistic they are in forcing and capitalizing on turnovers. The Fins were spurred on by their second defensive touchdown in as many weeks when DE Shaq Lawson picked up a loose ball forced by running mate DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and rumbled 36 yards to the house on Arizona’s first possession.
Despite being dragged up and down the field, allowing 4 touchdowns and a field goal over Arizona’s next 6 possessions, the defense came up huge, stuffing RB Chase Edmonds on a 4th-and-1 late in the fourth quarter, giving QB Tua Tagovailoa an opportunity for the go-ahead score.
Tua and the offense did just that, marching down inside field goal range for a successful Jason Sanders 50-yard field goal attempt.
Prior to this, Tua had a great day, completing 20-of-28 passes for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns without registering a turnover. He did all this without his top two weapons in the backfield (Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida), coupled with the loss of WR2 Preston Williams in the second quarter.
The young signal caller also gave a glimpse at what he can do with his legs, evading pressure multiple times and registering drive-extending runs. After watching Tua the last two weeks, it’s safe to say the concerns about his hip can be put to rest.
Despite being without the aforementioned weapons, the Fins still registered their second-highest point total of the season. The front office deserves a pat on the back for supplying this team with enough all-around depth to compete with the better teams in the NFL.
Los Angeles Chargers (2-6):
There are just some things in life that will always be the same: death, taxes, and the Chargers’ inability to win close games.
The challenging season continued for the Chargers on Sunday, dropping the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders (5-3) by a score of 31-26.
In each of LA’s six losses, the team has had an opportunity to win the game in the end, but came up short. Los Angeles’ six defeats have been by a combined 24 points and all have been decided by seven points or fewer.
The Chargers have talent on both sides of the ball, and have the ability to generate explosive plays. Rookie QB Justin Herbert led the charge in this regard, hitting WR Keenan Allen for a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and finding WR Tyron Johnson for a 50-yard reception later in the game.
Herbert would finish the game completing 28-of-42 pass attempts for 326 yards and two touchdowns. The former Oregon Duck has a tendency to use his legs, and he added 5 carries for 24 yards on the ground.
The Chargers went blow-for-blow with the Raiders in this game, but a WR/KR K.J. Hill muffed punt gave Las Vegas prime field position, allowing them to extend their lead to 31-26 with 3:30 left in the game via a Daniel Carlson field goal.
The Chargers drove to midfield, converted a pivotal 4th-and-1 attempt, and were knocking on the door at the Raiders’ 4-yard line. With one second left in regulation, Herbert threw a fade to WR Donald Parham, Jr. which was initially ruled a touchdown, but was reversed after the play was reviewed. (For the record, I thought he was in.)
Rubbing salt on the wound, the Chargers also lost starters RB Justin Jackson (knee) and OT Bryan Bulaga (back) in the first quarter. Neither player returned, and Jackson has been ruled out for this upcoming game while Bulaga is questionable to suit up.
Head to Head
Justin Herbert vs. Josh Boyer: Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer and the Dolphins’ defensive struggles against dual-threat quarterbacks are not an aberration at this point; it’s a trend and a glaring weakness. With QB Justin Herbert on the docket this week, things don’t get any easier. Aside from his prowess throwing the football, Herbert ranks tenth among quarterbacks in rushing yards despite not playing Week 1, and averages a robust 5.1 YPC on the ground, according to FFToday. After watching three quarterbacks in Cam Newton, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray all have varying levels of success on the ground, that is enough for me to give Herbert the nod. EDGE: Chargers
Miami Offensive Line vs. Los Angeles Defensive Line: The Fins’ O-Line will once again be tested with the likes of DE Joey Bosa, DE Melvin Ingram, and DT Jerry Tillery. The interior has been the strength of this O-line all year, and it was on display last week as both OG Ted Karras and OL Ereck Flowers each allowed no pressures on Sunday, according to Travis Wingfield. On the flip side, however, Miami’s tackles had a rough outing on the outside, as both Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt each allowed a sack. However, Jackson was just returning from IR, and one of Hunt’s sacks was due to a blown assignment from RB Salvon Ahmed. The Chargers, despite their star power, have only registered 16 sacks as a team (21st) and I believe the O-line is due for a bounce-back week. EDGE: Dolphins
Chargers Skill Positions vs. Dolphins Coverage: The Fins had a rough outing last weekend as far as giving up yards, but against the NFL’s No. 1 offense, it was to be expected to a degree. While shorthanded at running back with Austin Ekeler on IR and Justin Jackson out, the Chargers still have a plethora of talent at the skill positions in receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry, and rookie running back Joshua Kelley. Despite giving up a bevy of yards, the Fins did a great job in taking away Arizona’s top threat in DeAndre Hopkins (3 catches, 30 yards) but allowed WR2 Christian Kirk to beat them in a myriad of ways. I’m banking on CB Xavien Howard mirroring Allen as he did Hopkins, and neutralizing him. For the rest of the Miami coverage, their performance last week wasn’t as inspiring. Due to recency bias, I have a hard time picking the Fins this week. EDGE: Chargers
What Must Happen
- Limit. The. Deep. Ball: Ah yes, we’re back with my most consistent critique of this defense since Day 1. Last week, the Fins were torched, as five different Cardinals registered a catch of 15+ yards. Herbert isn’t as precise on the deep ball as Murray, but it is imperative that Miami keep the dangerous Chargers receivers in front of them, and that the front-seven get pressure when Herbert is looking deep.
- Any Given Sunday: Despite the Chargers’ record, the Fins can’t just roll their helmets out there and expect a win. Miami needs to come into this game ready to rock and roll, and get out to an early lead like they have in each of their last four wins.
- Let Tua Cook: The debut of Tua Tagovailoa was underwhelming two weeks ago, but last week was anything but, as he made the offense more dynamic, getting a full workload. If not for anything else, it’ll make the first of many Tua vs. Herbert matchups more exciting.
With how well this Miami team has been playing as of late, aside from the defending Super Bowl champions in the Kansas City Chiefs, you’d be hard pressed to find a team playing better football since the start of October.
With the offensive showing last week against a better defense, this team is starting to build momentum in that regard, and everyone in the locker room is believing in Tua, according to Ted Karras:
“I don’t think any moment is too big for Tua. He works hard and has earned the respect of everyone in that huddle.”
I feel Tua and the offense will take another step forward in this one, and will make life hard for the Chargers defense. Defensively, the Dolphins defensive line needs to get pressure without DC Josh Boyer having to blitz as frequently in order to have the manpower in coverage to limit another big outing through the air.
The Fins have been playing great football, and I believe that when the dust settles, they will have extended their winning streak to five games — albeit in close fashion, as the Chargers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Prediction: Dolphins win 27-23
(Featured Image Credit: MiamiDolphins.com)