We're just 2 days away from finally getting to see our beloved Miami Dolphins out on the field after what seems like forever. Of course, the extra time to bask in the "Dolphins 38 - Patriots 13" glory was nice. But even still, I'm glad our boys will take the field very soon.
And with that, it's time to talk about 3 key matchups that will go a long way towards determining if the Dolphins can pull off the upset victory over the Chargers and improve to .500.
Dolphins Rushing Attack vs Chargers Run Defense
A lot of people seem to be focusing on San Diego's pass defense being ranked 32nd in the NFL. But what you don't realize is that their yards-per-pass against is actually pretty good, allowing 6.7 ypp - which ranks the Chargers 12th in the NFL. It'll be more important for the Dolphins to establish a ground game against the Chargers than it will be for the Fins to get their passing attack going. And while the Chargers rank 13th in the league in rush defense, they are surrendering 4.5 yards-per-carry to their opponents - ranking SD 22nd in the league.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins struggled to get any ground game established in their first 2 games - both losses. But then against the Pats, we all know that the rushing attack was alive and well. But 100 of their 216 yards were a result of the 'Wildcat' formation. On their other 31 rushing attempts, the Dolphins averaged just 3.7 ypc. Will the Dolphins be able to establish a rushing attack out of their primary offense? They'll need to if they want to stay in this game.
Dolphins Pass Rush vs Chargers Pass Protection
I know we've talked about this a lot already this week, but I don't think the importance of this matchup can be understated. Surprisingly, the Dolphins have been able to get to the QB so far in this young season. I say "surprisingly" because there was a lot of talk about where the pass rush would come from following the Jason Taylor trade. But Paul Pasqualoni had a plan all along - which included moving Joey Porter back to weakside linebacker, the position Joey thrived at in Pittsburgh. The results? Well, I think we all saw last game against New England.
But Joey's not the only player who has been getting involved in the pass rush. Rookies Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling have tallied 3 sacks between the two of them - as well as consistently applying pressure even when they can't get their hands on the QB. Matt Roth has also been involved in some QB pressuring, as has Randy Starks. And you just have got to love how the Dolphins are rotating players in and out of the game within the front 7, keeping guys fresh well into the 4th quarter.
This week, Paul Pasqualoni's blitz packages will be important to note. Philip Rivers has the physical tools and the weapons around him to punish a team that allows him time to stand in the pocket. But he isn't very mobile and is still young - meaning he'll make bad decisions when pressured. Last week, the Raiders sacked Rivers 4 times in 3 quarters, intercepting Rivers twice and holding the Chargers to just 3 points in through three quarters.
I think that this Chargers offensive line, which historically has been quite good, is indeed susceptible to giving up sacks. If Porter and company can get to Rivers on Sunday, they have a better chance to pull of the win.
Slight Advantage: Dolphins
Chargers Passing Attack vs Dolphins Pass Defense
It's hard to call this matchup "receivers vs secondary" because this matchup goes way beyond that. The Chargers have a ton of talent on offense at the skill positions. And if the Dolphins do indeed plan on blitzing like we talked about above, then that's going to leave them vulnerable to potential big plays. Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, by themselves, are a handful to worry about. In fact, Jackson might actually worry me more than Chambers just because of his great size. We know the Dolphins don't generally fare too well against big, tall receivers like Jackson.
But then you have to factor in Antonio Gates as well as both LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles - two who can go the distance every time they touch the ball. An aggressive defensive gameplan would mean having a linebacker or a safety, but likely not both, matched up on Gates. Of course, this would also mean we could see some swing passes out to the backs in the flat. Again, not a favorable matchup for any Dolphin defender.
Let's just say that the Dolphins have got to not only pressure Rivers, but get to him and knock him around consistently. A failure to do so could spell disaster. Why? Because the Dolphins simply don't have the talent to match up with San Diego's skill position players.
So there are my 3 key matchups to watch on Sunday as the game progresses.
Let us know what you think about these 3 - or any others I might have left out - below...