The Miami Dolphins (4-3) will be facing the San Diego Chargers (5-3) today in a pivotal matchup between AFC teams who will be battling for a Wild Card spot in in the playoffs come December. Here are five things to watch for when the game kicks of at 1 pm ET at Sun Life Stadium.
1. Heavy hearts
Dolphins HC Joe Philbin's father passed away Friday evening, causing Philbin's two-day absence from the team. There will be heavy hearts on the Dolphins sideline, but also a shot of high-intensity as the team rallies around their emotionally-drained leader. The Dolphins will have a different type of motivation Sunday; a different type of energy. It will be interesting to see how that affects the outcome of the game.
2. Line of scrimmage
Dolphins must control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Phillip Rivers is a top quarterback in this league, and in order to have a chance to stop a top quarterback you have to take away the running game and make his offense one-dimensional. Then Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, and the rest of Miami's pass rushers can be unleashed on San Diego's quarterback.
3. How will Dolphins (attempt to) lock down Antonio Gates?
Gates has long been the Chargers best offensive weapon. Gates has been the go-to guy of the Chargers offense since LaDanian Tomlinson and Vincent Jackson exited San Diego.
The Dolphins have a few options as to how they will defend this monster of a tight end. They can shadow him with their best coverage linebacker, Jelani Jenkins. If the coaching staff feels Jenkins is outmatched, they can bracket Gates where ever he goes with a linebacker and safety Reshad Jones.
Whatever the Dolphins do to effectively cover Gates will leave them susceptible to being beat by....
4. Chargers wide receivers Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Malcolm Floyd
And the Chargers passing game as a whole. Rivers is a Pro Bowl quarterback who will find the open man, and if Miami commits to blanketing Gates then Allen Royal and Floyd will get plenty of one-on-one opportunities. It will be interesting to see how Miami elects to defend the Chargers 8th ranked passing game, and it's likely that the Dolphins will play a good amount of zone coverage to combat the multitude of weapons that San Diego has. San Diego will get their passing yards. They will move the ball. But Miami needs to be able to tighten screws in the redzone.
5. Performance on third downs
5. Performance on third downs
The Chargers offense has been forced into third down more than any other team this season. Fortunately for the Chargers, they are also fourth in the NFL at converting these third downs (50.4%). Miami must do what every other team to face the Chargers has done, force them into third down. But, the key is keeping these third downs over five yards and, of course, stopping the Chargers from converting. The Dolphins stop the opposing offense from converting on third down 41.5% of the time, ranked 15th in the NFL.
The Dolphins must also convert their third down opportunities. Miami moves the chains on third down only 38.5% of the time, ranked 22nd in the league. The Chargers allow 48.5% of third downs to be converted defensively.