Saturday, November 16, 2013

Four Point Stance: Chargers at Dolphins


Even before the Miami Dolphins (4-5) step on their home turf for a critical conference matchup with the San Diego Chargers (4-5), the local fans will be voicing their displeasure.

For the second time in three seasons, a group of Miami fans will fly a banner over the stadium before a Dolphins home game, expressing their feelings on the state of the franchise and the management that brought it there. Prior to the final game of the 2011 season, a banner that read "Mr. Ross: Save our Fins, fire Ireland" flew over Sun Life Stadium, imploring team owner Stephen Ross to fire general manager Jeff Ireland.

Lately, the Dolphins have been in free-fall, dropping five of their last six games after a 3-0 start, frustrating a fanbase that's facing the likelihood of another losing season. Their postseason hopes are fading fast, but a win over the similarly situated Chargers would put them in position to make a late charge for a Wild Card berth.

When the Chargers have the ball:

Quarterback Philip Rivers has reclaimed a spot among the league's most effective passers. He's been remarkably accurate in 2013 and more importantly, has done a good job recognizing coverages and commanding a system in which he is given full autonomy. Rivers is not, however, a mobile quarterback. The Dolphins will need to get pressure on him early and often, a task made easier by the absence of left tackle King Dunlap, and do a good job of limiting his favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates. There's rarely a matchup that Gates doesn't have the advantage in, so Miami will need to bracket him in coverage while also keeping tabs on breakout rookie Keenan Allen. It'll be a tough task for the talented Dolphins secondary.

When the Dolphins have the ball:
It goes without saying, but the Dolphins will need to gain much more than two rushing yards if they hope to win this game. Fortunately, San Diego does not boast nearly as good of a front seven as Tampa Bay did, making life somewhat easier for their patchwork offensive line. If Miami can run the ball well, it'll draw a safety into the box and create more space for the receivers to attack a below-average Chargers cornerback group. Safeties Marcus Gilchrist and Eric Weddle should be able to keep a lid on any deep passes to Mike Wallace, so intermediate routes and slants should be a focus for the Miami offense.

Cameron Wake. With Dunlap sidelined, rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker will move to the left to protect Rivers' blindside. That will result in either Mike Remmers or Nick Becton lining up across from the All Pro pass rusher, a highly favorable matchup for the Dolphins. If Wake can have the type of game-changing impact he's prone to having and single-handedly disrupt the Chargers' passing game, it'll bode very well for Miami's chances of winning.

The Dolphins have lost two straight games to the Chargers, both in San Diego by a 10 point margin. In each of those games, the quarterback that started for the Dolphins suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. In 2009, it was Chad Pennington and in 2011, it was Chad Henne. The two combined to play one more snap for the franchise after their respective injuries. Miami's won six straight home games in the series dating back to 1983, with the last loss coming in the legendary 1982 divisional playoff game, which the Chargers won 41-38 in overtime.

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