Chargers-Dolphins Preview

After a disheartening loss to the NFL’s last winless team, the
Miami Dolphins are looking to end their struggles and move past the
distractions caused by the Richie Incognito saga.

Tied with the Dolphins on the outside of the AFC playoff race,
the San Diego Chargers also hope to get right Sunday when they seek
their first win in Miami in almost 32 years.

Playing for the first time since allegations of bullying between
starting offensive linemen engulfed the locker room in controversy,
the Dolphins (4-5) lost for the fifth time in six games with a
22-19 setback at previously-winless Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin alleges he was harassed daily
by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended. Martin
left the team before last week’s game and is scheduled to meet with
an NFL special investigator, while owner Stephen Ross has formed
two committees to study the team’s locker room culture.

“We have good guys on this team who understand adversity and
understand how to handle it,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
“This is a good test. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s
fun to deal with. But I have faith in these guys.”

Now Miami coach Joe Philbin faces the challenge of keeping his
team focused on its goal of reaching the playoffs for the first
time since 2008.

Despite their recent swoon, the Dolphins trail the New York Jets
by just one game for the AFC’s sixth and final postseason spot.

While the Dolphins have allowed the most sacks in the league
(37) and figure to be even more vulnerable up front with Martin and
Incognito sidelined, San Diego’s pass rush has only managed a pair
of sacks over its last two games.

The Chargers (4-5) – also one game back in the playoff hunt, but
in 11th place when you include tiebreakers – hope to bounce back
after dropping games to Washington and Denver by a combined 14
points.

Since giving up a total of 15 points in consecutive wins over
Indianapolis and Jacksonville, San Diego has allowed 58 over the
past two weeks. Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning combined to
complete 70.5 percent of their passes for 621 yards against the
Chargers, who rank 28th in the league with 279.6 passing yards
allowed per game.

“What happens when you play a good team like this, the little
mistakes blow up in a hurry,” said coach Mike McCoy after Manning
burned his team for four touchdown passes.

Tannehill will look to take advantage of San Diego’s scuffling
pass defense after completing 67.1 percent of his attempts for 437
yards with two scores and one pick in his last two games. He
connected on only 54.5 percent for 942 yards with seven touchdowns
and seven interceptions during the team’s four-game losing
streak.

Tannehill, however, would like to get some help from a running
game that was limited to a franchise-low two yards against the
Buccaneers. One game after posting the first 100-yard effort of his
career, Lamar Miller carried seven times for two yards – with a
long of four.

“We didn’t have any type of way to keep them off balance because
we weren’t able to establish the run,” Philbin said.

In the most recent meeting on Oct. 2, 2011, Philip Rivers
completed 21 of 31 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown in a 26-16
win over visiting Miami.

On Sunday, Rivers threw for 218 yards on 19 of 29 passing with
one score in a 28-20 home loss to the Broncos. He fired a
seven-yard scoring strike to Danny Woodhead, who has a team-high 53
catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns.

Rivers, who has a career-high 71.6 completion percentage, has
connected on 74.3 percent for an average of 328.0 yards with nine
touchdowns and five interceptions in five road games.

He could find the going a bit more difficult against Miami,
which has allowed an average of 176.0 passing yards while causing
seven turnovers over its last four contests.

Making matters worse, San Diego left tackle King Dunlap went
down with a strained neck against Denver and doesn’t know if he’ll
be able to play. The Chargers also have lost outside linebacker
Larry English for the season due to a pectoral injury.

San Diego has lost on its last six trips to Miami, including a
pair of playoff meetings. The Chargers’ last victory in south
Florida was the well-known 41-38 overtime thriller in the AFC
Divisional playoff game on Jan. 2, 1982.