Miami Dolphins: Can Defense Stop Philip Rivers and Keep Playoff Hopes Alive?

By Scott Feder
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Miraculously, despite the chaos that has ensued following “Bully-Gate” and the embarrassing loss in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 4-5 Miami Dolphins are still in the fight for the playoffs. Their opponents this weekend, the San Diego Chargers, have the same record and are also fighting for a Wild Card playoff spot as well.

One advantage the Chargers will have in their favor is that the game itself won’t be played until 4:00pm. Typically when the west coast teams travel to the east coast they play at 1:00pm which is equivalent to playing at 10:00am for their bodies. With the game being played later, this will be just another game for the Chargers.

The Chargers will look to take advantage of a favorable start time as well as a Dolphins team that is in all sorts of turmoil. Miami’s offensive woes have been well documented all season long as they have been hampered by running their offense with the protection of—or perhaps I should have said lack thereof—the worst line in football. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 37 times this season and as a result the passing game has been limited to short passes so that they can get the ball out of his hands quicker.

San Diego will also find that stopping the running game won’t be entirely too difficult either. The Dolphins have the 7th worst rushing attack in football averaging 87 yards per game. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have split carries all season long, and neither running back has proven to be reliable or consistent. There have been a few games where the Dolphins were able to establish an effective running game that kills the clock, but for a majority of the season that just has not been the case.

In order for the Dolphins to stay in this game they are going to have to rely heavily on their defense. The match-up to keep an eye on is how the Dolphins will try to contain Antonio Gates. The Dolphins like to play man coverage on the outside and have had success getting to the quarterback. This weekend both facets will be tested by Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ 9th ranked passing attack. The secondary should match up well against the smaller receiving corps of the Chargers that features Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen. Look for defensive backs Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson to press them every chance they get and try to force Rivers to go to Gates where the Dolphins should have linebackers or safeties sitting back in zone coverage waiting to jump routes.

If Miami has real aspirations of making the playoffs then they are going to have to overcome the adversity of the past week. This game is critical for both team’s chances at staying in the hunt for the playoffs and neither can afford a loss. Hopefully they will be able to put “Bully-Gate” behind them and focus on taking care of business in front of the home crowd before the entire season goes down the drain.

Scott Feder is a Miami Dolphins Contributor for Follow him on Twitter @federisbetter81, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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