The Dolphins find themselves on the west coast for their first game of the season. They should be familiar after suffering an ugly 23-17 loss at So-Fi stadium last December.
The Chargers dialed up an effective game plan to stymie the high-powered Dolphins offense. Tua finished with just ten completions for 145 yards on twenty-eight pass attempts, while the defense surrendered 367 yards to Justin Herbert. The game really wasn’t as close as the score indicated, and one of Miami’s touchdowns came when Tyreek Hill took a fumbled ball from Jeff Wilson fifty-seven yards for a touchdown.
Now it’s week one; the start of a brand new season. The Dolphins have a new defensive coordinator, and Mike McDaniel should have a new game plan. In order for Miami to avoid repeating history, they need to focus on some key points.
Mike McDaniel needs to show range and discipline as a play-caller
Last season was a major offensive success, until it wasn’t. Like anything in the history of the NFL, teams will eventually figure you out. When the Niners and Chargers figured out how to stop the Dolphins attacking the middle of the field McDaniel had no answer.
It’s likely other teams will look to employ the same strategies this season, and it’ll be critical for the second year head coach to show he can adjust. Miami’s offense has to be multi-dimensional. McDaniel has to stay committed to his promise of running the ball more, especially in this game. The Chargers allowed the fifth most rushing yards last season, and didn’t do much to address that issue over the offseason.
Derwin James, JC Jackson, and Nick Bosa were out for last year’s game, but all three are healthy and ready to go for the Chargers’ defense. McDaniel is going to have to back-up his “genius” moniker if Miami wants to have any chance at success.
Allowing the run-game to set up the pass, particularly play-action, and utilizing the speed on offense through the screen game, could prove to be a successful approach. If it works, McDaniel has to try and refrain from getting too cute. It’s okay to go away from forcing downfield plays to Hill and Waddle if something else is working. Too often last season he abandoned the ground game when it was working. This season, and game in particular, will go a long way in showing what kind of growth McDaniel has, and if he make adjustments in-game.
The NFL in it’s simplest form is a chess match; move, counter-move. Can the yale-grad prove to be a chess master?
Time for the pass rushers to step up
New Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has promised this offense will feature a much more vertical passing game. With the size and down-field abilities of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and rookie Quintin Johnston, and the big arm of Herbert, it’s a pretty common sense approach.
Depending on how fast the Dolphins defense have picked up Vic Fangio’s, a vertical passing game could prove to be favorable matchup for Miami. Fangio’s confusing zone scheme is built to defend against big plays in the pass game, and Jevon Holland is an excellent deep safety.
Since Fangio’s scheme makes it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to get pre-snap reads, causing them to hold the ball longer post snap while they figure out ever-changing coverage looks, it could lead to some big plays for the defensive line.
That’s if they rushers can prove they’ve graduated from pressures, to finishes. They were among the league’s best in creating pressure last season, but struggled to get sacks.
Herbert is big and mobile, so it won’t be easy, but the secondary could cause coverage sack opportunities for Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb. Phillips has high expectations this year as he looks to record his first double-digit sack season, and Chubb needs to prove his $110 million-dollar contract and first round pick the Dolphins traded to land him was worth it. Sunday afternoon is a terrific place for them to start.
Quick-hit key matchups
-Terron Armstead is OUT, So Kendall Lamm has his work cutout with Joey Bosa. He had a mostly strong preseason, and needs to show he can be the go-to backup plan for Armstead who likely won’t be missing his last game this year.
-Austin Jackson has appeared confident and ready to prove himself after an injury-marred season. He’ll get his opportunity against Khalil Mack.
-David Long Jr. and Jerome Baker will need to be productive as they work to stop Austin Akeler in the run and pass games.
-Like the Dolphins won’t already have their hands full with Allen, Williams, Johnston, Josh Palmer and Ekeler, how they choose to handle the vertical threat that tight end Gerald Everett brings will likely prove to be an important factor.
-The Dolphins are known for their wide-zone rushing attack, but Bosa and Mack should be able to set the edges. The focus should be running between the tackles. A mixture of Raheem Mostert and Chris Brooks could prove fruitful in attacking Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox, and Austin Johnson in the interior.
Week one is always a bit sloppy as most teams don’t play their starters much in the preseason. On top of that, both the Dolphins and Chargers have new coordinators and schemes that players are adjusting to.
This game could go either way, and may come down to game plans, more than the talent on both teams.
Tua should be fired up after missing the final three games last year, including the Dolphins playoff loss to the Bills, and I expect him to have a chip on his shoulder this season. His success against the Chargers will come down to the success of Miami’s gameplan, as he’s shown not to be a player who makes the same mistakes twice.
Ultimately, expecting the defense to quickly pick up a dramatically different scheme than what they’re used to, and a tough matchup for Miami’s offense, the Chargers should be able to capitalize at home.
Chargers 31, Dolphins 24