The Miami Dolphins conclude a two-week California road trip on Sunday Night Football this weekend when they face the Los Angeles Chargers. Coming off a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13, Miami needs to find their way back into the win column with a victory against a Chargers team trying to claw their way back into the AFC playoff picture.
The Dolphins, at 8-4 on the season, are currently in second place in the AFC East and are the sixth seed in the AFC playoff bracket. The Chargers are 6-6 for the year and are ninth in the conference, putting them two spots outside the postseason qualification spots.
Of course, Sunday night also features the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and the sixth-overall pick that year, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. The two passers will forever be linked because of their draft positions, especially in Miami where, from before the picks were even made, there was already debate over which quarterback would be the right selection to make. Since the Draft, Herbert’s play had many convinced Miami made the wrong selection, but this year’s performance from Tagovailoa has that discussion quieting down. Now, the two face off in a primetime meeting full of playoff implications.
As we get closer to kickoff for the game, I turned to Michael Peterson from SB Nation Chargers team site Bolts from the Blue, for a closer look at the Chargers.
The Chargers feel like they have underachieved this season. When I look at the standings, I feel like the Chargers should be in the AFC playoff picture, but they are stuck on the outside looking in with a .500 record. Injuries have clearly taken a toll on the team, but is there something else going on with Los Angeles that has them struggling to break through this year? What is working and what is not for the Chargers?
When it comes to list of reasons why the Chargers are not meeting their high preseason expectations, the laundry list of injuries is certainly at the top. A handful of Pro Bowl-caliber players have missed most of the season and others have been in and out of the lineup quite often. It’s hard to be successful at anything without consistency and it honestly seems like a miracle at times that this team is even 6-6 at this point in the season.
One of the biggest themes surrounding the Chargers this season — apart from injuries — has been the offense being called by Joe Lombardi. It’s widely viewed as “limiting” to Justin Herbert and his skillset. “Low risk, low reward” is also another way of describing it. When your quarterback has a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder, it’s amazing that you’ve come to a conclusion that throwing six-yard pass after six-yard pass is the best way to succeed with him.
Lastly, the defense has been one of the worst in the league while being historically bad at stopping the run. Injuries also play a role in this, but there’s still more talent left on this unit than most teams have across the league and it simply boggles the mind that they’ve been THIS bad at stopping opposing running backs.
Not having Joey Bosa on the defense has obviously been an issue for the Chargers. Will he be able to get back on the field this year and potentially make the final push toward the playoffs? How has his loss hurt the Chargers’ defense?
The loss of Joey Bosa on defense essentially opened up a massive lane to attack amid the front seven. The talent level from the Chargers’ top two edge rushers to their first guy off the bench is immense and it’s been quite evident since Bosa went down against the Jaguars in week three. As things stand, there continues to be no timeline for Bosa’s return and that’s incredibly frustrating as he was given a 6-10 week recovery timeline at the very start of his rehab. We’re currently beyond that 10-week timeframe and Brandon Staley hasn’t been able to give any detail whatsoever about when he could possibly return. In my opinion, I don’t think he’s coming back for the regular season and if the Chargers continue to lose, there’s really no point in rushing him back.
I do not want to spark the Tua Tagovalioa versus Justin Herbert debate, but I do want to discuss Herbert. He is obviously one of the top, young quarterbacks in the league, but he has seemed to have struggles this season. The injury theme of our discussion continues here, with the offense seeing their share of missing players, but has Herbert regressed this season? How much concern is there about the mesh of Herbert with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi?
I always believed it was obvious from the jump that Lombardi’s offensive philosophy conflicted with how Herbert should be used. I know he threw for over 5,000 yards a season ago, but that was skewed by the many games in which he needed to throw his team out of a deficit late in games. Without his top wideouts, the entire offense lost all possibility of being dynamic. Without Allen for most of the year and now Williams being the one struggling to get back on the field, there hasn’t been a lot of pass-catchers capable of creating consistent separation. Add in the fact that the offensive line can’t pass protect for all that long and you’ve got far too many variables forcing the team into an identity they don’t want to accept, but have to.
I personally don’t think Herbert has regressed all that much. Regression is understandable after the two stellar seasons he had prior to 2022, but who can really tell if it’s true regression if he hasn’t been able to throw to the same players from a year ago for most of the year? I mean, the guy has thrown only one interception that wasn’t deflected at the line or slipped through the hands of his own players. He’s been one of the unluckiest players when it comes to those types of plays and you can’t fault him for the things he ultimately cannot control.
Herbert — like any other quarterback — could always play better. But right now, he’s the only reason this team isn’t pushing for double-digit losses.
With all of the injuries to the Chargers this season, who will be the surprise player on offense? On defense?
Offensively, second-year wideout Joshua Palmer has been awesome this year in place of the injured Allen and Williams. It took a little for him to get rolling to begin the season but he’s taken advantage of his opportunities as of late. He currently leads the Chargers in receiving yards with 612 and has come up with his fair share of clutch catches throughout this season.
On defense, Drue Tranquill has continued to shine in his second year of playing within Staley’s offense. He’s been most effective as a blitzer while consistently holding his own in coverage. Coming into this season, Tranquill was the team’s only starting-caliber linebacker and that continues to be the case entering week 14. Another name I’ll throw out there is slot cornerback Bryce Callahan. He’s been the team’s best cornerback this season and currently leads the team with three interceptions. He’ll have his hands full this week with either Hill or Waddle, whomever happens to line up in the slot on Sunday night.
This might be the last 20 years of watching the Dolphins, but I am actually a little surprised that, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are three-point favorites in this game, both because they are facing a team that can be as explosive as the Chargers and because it is odd seeing Miami as a road favorite. As for the point total, I feel like even at 52.5 points, the highest total in the league this week, I would hammer the over. This feels like a shootout in the making. How do you feel about both the line and the over/under mark?
I also believe this could be a high-scoring affair with both teams wanting to pass the ball much more often than run it. However, I feel like if this game starts to trend towards a track meet, the Dolphins are much more equipped to succeed than the Chargers. The skillsets of either team’s receivers couldn’t be more different and one is obviously much more geared towards quick scoring drives than the other.
I have predicted a 30-26 win for the Dolphins which means I am definitely hammering the over in this one.