Dolphins vs. Chargers NFL Week 11: Who Has The Edge in These 5 Key Matchups?
Dolphins vs. Chargers: Who Has The Edge?
Despite a controversy that has drawn national attention, management and the coaching staff being on shaky ground and an embarrassing loss to the previously win-less Tampa Bay Buccaneers in front of the entire country in Week 10, the Miami Dolphins still find themselves in the thick of the heated race for the AFC's second wildcard opening.
The New York Jets currently hold the spot with a 5-4 record, but the Dolphins are scheduled to play the Jets twice in December and own the tiebreaker over all four of the AFC's 4-5 teams at the moment. Miami also gets one of those 4-5 teams at home on Sunday when the San Diego Chargers make the cross-country trip to Sun Life Stadium.
The Dolphins seem to be on life support after losing five of their last six games, but a win on Sunday against the Chargers could help them emerge as the front-runner to challenge the Jets for the sixth seed in the AFC.
Beating the Chargers will be a tall order, especially for a club that couldn't beat a Buccaneers team that started a rookie quarterback on Monday night or a Buffalo Bills squad that started a quarterback with two career starts in Week 7. But west coast teams have historically struggled to play well on the east coast, and the Chargers are reeling a bit themselves as losers of two straight.
Let's see who has the edge on Sunday in all three phases of the game.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
Dolphins' Pass Defense vs. Chargers' Passing Attack
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is currently in the midst of a resurgence that has propelled San Diego to the league's fourth most productive passing attack.
Rivers is on pace to throw 4,784 passing yards, which would be a career high, and 32 touchdown passes, which would be the second-highest total of his career. The Chargers have utilized a quick passing attack this season after focusing on more vertical shots in years past.
The Dolphins' pass defense has actually surfaced as the strength of the team thanks to shutdown coverage from cornerback Brent Grimes, who held Vincent Jackson to three catches for 28 yards in Week 10. Grimes will have his hands full with a solid San Diego receiver corps on Sunday.
But the strength of the Chargers' passing game centers around tight end Antonio Gates, who leads the team with 612 receiving yards, and running back Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. For the Dolphins, outside linebacker Philip Wheeler and strong safety Reshad Jones have struggled in coverage this season and could be exposed by Gates and Woodhead, respectively.
Wheeler ranks as the league's second worst 4-3 outside linebacker in coverage and only three safeties in the entire NFL have been less effective in coverage than Jones, according to Pro Football Focus. Miami's pass rush has been incredibly inconsistent this season as well, so Rivers should have sufficient time to pick on Wheeler and Jones throughout.
Edge: San Diego
Dolphins' Rushing Attack vs. Chargers' Run Defense
Without Richie Incognito at left guard, the Dolphins' running game was able to produce a mere two yards in Week 10, which was the lowest rushing total in team history.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman dialed up several stretch runs, but running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas were unable to find the edge. There also wasn't much push up front from Miami's offensive line. Most notably, Nate Garner, who filled in for Incognito at left guard, struggled mightily throughout and produced a -2.3 overall grade by Pro Football Focus' estimate.
The Chargers don't have the stoutest run defense, however, and are currently conceding 114.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks 20th in the NFL. San Diego's three-man defensive line is one of the league's worst, as defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes and nose tackle Cam Thomas each grade out negatively against the run according to Pro Football Focus.
It's impossible to know what to expect from the Dolphins' running game. The Dolphins did produce back-to-back 150-plus yard outings before managing a grand total of two rushing yards on Monday night. But there's nowhere for the attack to go but up in Week 11 and much more balance should be expected.
However, it's difficult to trust Sherman to stay balanced, a depleted offensive line to block and Miller and Thomas to produce.
Edge: San Diego
Dolphins' Run Defense vs. Chargers' Rushing Attack
Led by Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and former Dolphin Ronnie Brown, the Chargers have a rather average rushing attack. Through nine games San Diego ranks 19th in the NFL with 106.8 rushing yards per game and only Mathews is averaging over four yards per carry.
The Dolphins' inadequacy against the run came to a head in Week 10, however, when the Buccaneers ran for 140 yards without star runner Doug Martin and without the productive Mike James for most of the game. Miami's defensive line is talented, but its linebackers have struggled to fill running lanes and make tackles.
Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe have both graded negatively against the run on Pro Football Focus, and Koa Misi, who is the team's stoutest linebacker against the run, has missed time with a knee injury.
The Dolphins' must dominate in the trenches on Sunday or expect the Chargers' offense to be on the field much longer than Ryan Tannehill and company.
Dolphins' Passing Attack vs. Chargers' Pass Defense
If the Dolphins win on Sunday it will likely be as a result of Tannehill having one of his best performance of the season. First off, he'll likely need to in order to keep pace with Rivers and the Chargers' high-powered offense. Also, San Diego has one of the worst pass defenses in the entire NFL.
Opponents have managed 279.6 passing yards per game throwing against the Chargers, which is fifth highest total in the league. The Chargers have four eligible cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus' rankings at the position. All four grade out in the bottom 12, including former Dolphin Richard Marshall.
There will be opportunistic matchups all over the field for Tannehill to exploit. Expect receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and the upstart Rishard Matthews to benefit.
San Diego has only produced 22.0 sacks through nine games, which ranks 20th in the NFL. Miami's poor offensive line might not be exposed.
At punter, the Dolphins' Brandon Fields leads the league with an average of 49.1 yards per boot. Mike Scifres ranks 25th in the NFL with 44.0 yards per punt in San Diego.
At kicker, rookie Caleb Sturgis is 15-of-20 on field goal tries this season for the Dolphins while Nick Novak is 17-of-20 for the Chargers.
Neither team has been very dangerous on kick or punt return. Marcus Thigpen has some big-play ability, but he's been making some poor decisions as of late, oftentimes electing to return kicks he shouldn't and catch punts he should just let bounce into the end zone.
The Chargers' kickoff coverage has been a little leaky this season, as they have given up more kick-return yardage than any other team. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been solid covering punts and kicks.