After winning at home against the Titans 43-35, the Chargers (4-5) take on another team on a hot streak when the Miami Dolphins (4-4) come to town Sunday. The Dolphins have won three straight games and as of now are right ahead of the Bolts in the AFC playoff picture which makes this a pivotal game.
The Chargers have to feel disappointed this week as the team’s stadium proposal Prop C failed to pass, leaving the team in flux as ownership has announced that it will not commit to anything until the end of the season. The success of this season seems to become more important by the week as they have to believe a good season could change the minds of some San Diegans if they were to get another shot at a Stadium.
Over their three-game win streak, the Dolphins offense has been much better averaging 28.3 points per game after averaging only 17.6 through their first five. The biggest part of their turnaround has been the emergence of second-year running back Jay Ajayi who has made a name for himself running for 529 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games. His consecutive 200-yard games were the first since Ricky Williams (2002) and only the fifth time it has ever been done. The main reason that Ajayi has been so successful is the health of the offensive line, the starting five Miami lineman are undefeated (3-0) when they are all in the lineup. Ryan Tannehill has had a lopsided season so far with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, and only has two games with multiple touchdowns this season and three games with none. A major concern for the offense is the receiver group as Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry are both questionable for this game, and Landry would be a particularly big loss as he is Tannehill’s favorite option being targeted 70 times, with Devonte parker the next closest with 42 targets.
The Chargers offense is coming off their highest scoring game since 2014 putting up 43 points against the Titans but has to give some credit to the defense as they scored 14 of those points. Either way, the Chargers have shown that they can put up points against any team and took a major step last week with no turnovers for the first time this season. Melvin Gordon absolutely exploded last week when he ran for a career-high 196 rushing yards and a touchdown, to go with 65 receiving yards to complete a monstrous game. The Gordon doubters are hard to find these days as he is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (9)and has improved in the passing game averaging 10.1 yards per catch this year compared to 5.8 his rookie season. The offensive line had it’s best run-blocking game of the season, and they kept two of the league’s sack leaders away from Philip Rivers allowing him to get sacked only once, so that is encouraging as they play a lesser defensive front this week. Travis Benjamin (sprained PCL) had to leave the game last week early and it seems highly unlikely that he plays this week considering the Chargers have a bye week after this game, so look for Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams to pick up the slack and for tight end Hunter Henry who should return for this game.
The Dolphins made moves to improve their defense in the off-season bringing in Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell in a trade and adding Ndamukong Suh the year before, but they have failed to live up to the hype. The Dolphins are very average defensively allowing 22.8 points per game, but the one place they have been exceptional is stopping opponents on third down allowing only a 31% conversion rate, leading the league in that category. Cameron Wake leads the team in sacks with 5.0 and right behind him is Ndamukong Suh who has 4.5, both of them players can change the game with pressure, but as a team, they are middle of the pack with 19.0 sacks. Their run defense has been the one glaring weakness of this defense as they are the third worst in the league allowing 136.1 rushing yards per game, and will have to face a back that had almost 200 yards last week. Starting cornerback Xavien Howard has been ruled out of this game, and Chris Culliver is questionable so the secondary will definitely be tested as the Bolts will look to pick on their replacements.
The Chargers defense is coming off of a very strange game because it’s hard to gauge how well they played as they allowed 35 points, but also did some scoring of their own. It’s clear that the Chargers are dealing with holes in their secondary and they were exposed last week when the were not able to get pressure failing to register a sack. The good news for the secondary is that they should get Craig Mager back in the mix if he can return from a concussion, giving them a solid group of corners, but they likely won’t receive the safety help they have needed with Jahleel Addae still out. The Chargers will have to repeat great run defense from last week, as they play another good running team and will again be missing it’s starting linebackers Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman. Korey Toomer will again have to fill-in coming off a great game leading the team in tackles and forcing the only fumble of the game leading to a Chargers touchdown. Look for John Pagano to dial-up various stunts and blitzes after the team struggled to get pressure against the Titans and the Dolphins giving up an average 2.38 sacks per game.
As of now, the Chargers sit two games behind the Denver Broncos for the last Wildcard spot and it will be imperative for them to pick up a game from a team directly ahead of them. The Dolphins are 0-3 on the road this season and have lost three straight at Qualcomm including a 35-14 loss to a much worse 2015 Chargers team. West Coast road trips are never easy so I see more of the same, Chargers win 34-14.