For the Dolphins, Sunday’s contest against the San Diego Chargers will be tough. In order to win, they must continue to do the same things they’ve done during their current three-game winning streak—and maybe, just a little more.
The past six meetings between the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers have ended with the visiting team losing. Considering the traveling team has to partake in one of the longest trips in the NFL—roughly a six-hour plane ride—it’s easy to understand why.
Sunday afternoon, the visiting Dolphins have the chance to break recent history between the two foes by beating the Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium. The task, however, won’t be easy. In order for the Dolphins to defeat the Chargers, they must do these five things:
1. Run the football
If the Dolphins want to play the role of spoiler, they must continue to rely on the legs of second year running back Jay Ajayi. During the Dolphins three-game winning streak, the “J-Train” has been impressive, rushing for 529 yards and 4 touchdowns on 77 carries (6.8 yards per attempt). Establishing the run, however, will be a difficult task. The Chargers’ run defense ranks fifth in the NFL, allowing just 85.3 yards per game on the ground. More impressively, they’re holding opposing teams to a measly 3.8 yards per rush. The Dolphins can’t let early struggles discourage them. Last week against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, the New York Jets, Ajayi struggled until the fourth quarter. The J-Train relies on his physicality to wear opposing teams out as the game goes on, which is exactly what he did last Sunday. With a healthy offensive line, it’s hard to see coach Adam Gase deferring from what has worked so well for the Dolphins’ offense. Look for Miami to stick to the run, even if it doesn’t work early on.
2. Limit Melvin Gordon to under 100 yards rushing
If Jay Ajay is the NFL’s hottest running back, Melvin Gordon is a close second. With his league-leading nine touchdowns, Gordon is third in rushing yards (768) and 307 of those have come in the past two weeks. Last week, Gordon torched the Tennessee Titans defense for 196 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins’ defense, ranked 30th against the run, has a lot on their plate Sunday. Last Sunday against the New York Jets, the Dolphins defense surrendered 140 yards on 21 attempts, an average of 6.7 yards per carry. The Dolphins can’t continue this trend if they want a chance to stop one of the hottest running backs on Sunday.
3. Pressure Philip Rivers
Stopping the run is just one part of the equation at stopping the San Diego Chargers’ high-powered offense. Due in large part to All-Pro quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ offense is ranked third in points (29.8 per game) and ninth in yards (378 per game) this season. Despite his uncanny ability to rack up passing yards against opposing defenses, Rivers, by nature, is a gunslinger and is prone to throw interceptions when pressured in the pocket. Luckily for the Dolphins, they’re getting much better at putting opposing quarterbacks on their backs. In fact, during their three-game winning-streak, the Dolphins’ defense has produced nine sacks and four interceptions. If Miami can continue to put pressure on the quarterback Sunday, the likelihood of Rivers throwing risky passes, winding up in possible interceptions, increases considerably. Causing turnovers, especially on the road, will help the Dolphins chances at pulling off the upset.
4. Ryan “game-manager” Tannehill
During the Dolphins three-game winning-streak, Ryan Tannehill has not turned the ball over once. Benefiting from a healthy offensive line and the running of Jay Ajayi, Tannehill has played the ultimate complimentary role in an offense that has averaged 28.3 points per game during the three-game span. In other words, Tannehill has been a “game-manager,” which offensive coordinator Clyde Christiansen sees as a compliment, rather than the negative connotation that the phrase is normally associated with. “No quarterback should be offended,” Christensen said, via Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero. “It should be a compliment, but it kind of has this derogatory term of making you a non-playmaker [and] you just manage the game. Absolutely not.” Hopefully for the Dolphins, Sunday will be another game where they ask Tannehill to be a complimentary piece, rather than the whole puzzle. As we’ve seen recently, if that’s the case, the Dolphins’ chances skyrocket.
5. Be effective in the red-zone.
This matchup between the Dolphins and the Chargers will showcase two of the worst offenses in the NFL at scoring touchdowns in the red-zone. The Chargers, ranked 22nd in the league, score only 48.84 percent of the time in the red-zone; the Dolphins, on the other hand, score just 44 percent of the time, which is good for 28th in the league. The Dolphins will live with giving up a lot of yards to a prolific offense if it means that they can limit the Chargers to field goals, rather than touchdowns. In order to do so, the Dolphins’ defense must eliminate the big play, which they’ve done a decent job of the past few games. On offense, hopefully the running game can open up play action and allow Tannehill to move outside of the pocket for high-percentage throws in the red-zone. During the past few games, we’ve seen Adam Gase call a lot more bootlegs, which gives Tannehill the opportunity to throw on the run—a quality he excels at. Field goals won’t cut it, especially in this game on the road. If the Dolphins have success in the red-zone on both sides of the ball, they have a good chance at winning their fourth game in a row—a feat that has not been reached since the 2008 season.
FYI: 2008 was the last year the Dolphins made the playoffs.