The Miami Dolphins face the Los Angeles Chargers in a Sunday Night Football showdown tonight. The Dolphins, 8-4, are in second place in the AFC East and are holding on to the sixth position in the AFC playoff picture. The Chargers, 6-6, are second in the AFC West, but are ninth in the AFC with only the top seven earning a spot in the postseason. Both teams are looking to the primetime meeting to springboard their playoff chances this season.
Miami is coming off a loss last week to the San Francisco 49ers in a game when the Dolphins’ offense never seemed to get into a rhythm. Staying out in California for the week, practicing at the UCLA training facilities, Miami is looking to bounce back after a bad game and to keep the pressure on the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East lead. What needs to happen for the Dolphins to come away with the win?
Time to take a look at five storylines to watch tonight.
Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy
Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is among the league’s elite when it comes to accuracy. He is typically able to place the ball anywhere he wants and he is able to thread passes through the defense. That did not happen last week. For whatever reason, Tagovailoa was often high on his passes and he just seemed to be uncomfortable throughout the game.
Miami’s offense is pass-first, pass-often, and almost pass-only. Tagovailoa cannot have the same issues this week that showed up last week. Everyone has a bad game, and that is what Week 13 has to have been for Tagovailoa - a bad game. Back-to-back weeks where Tagovailoa’s accuracy is off will make it extremely difficult for Miami to continue their press toward the postseason.
Where is the run game?
Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, the Dolphins were facing the league’s top rush defense. Not running the ball into the strength of a defense makes sense. But in Week 12, they faced the league’s worst rush defense in the Houston Texans, and they did not focus on the ground game then either. Miami uses the run as a threat, with play-action passes and the run-pass option, but they do not really run the ball. This week, they should at least attempt to get running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr., established in the game, especially given the Chargers come in with the 29th-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing 151.6 yards per game on the ground.
Mostert is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for Miami this year, having rushed 125 times. Wilson, in four games with the Dolphins, has 40 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. The Dolphins can pick up yards on the ground when they use it, but they have chosen now to use it very often. Getting it started against the Chargers, knowing they will probably need it next week against the Buffalo Bills in a primetime game in Buffalo, would be a good move for the team.
Can the Dolphins stop Khalil Mack?
The Dolphins avoid having back-to-back games against former Dolphins defensive end John Bosa’s kids. Last week, Miami had to deal with Nick Bosa, the leauge’s leader in sacks this season, getting into the backfield. This week, they should have to face the Joey Bosa, the elder of the two sound of John, but Joey is on injured reserve and, while he could begin practicing after this week, he will not be on the field against the Dolphins.
Not having to face a top pass rusher is a benefit for the Dolphins, but they are still going to have to find a way to stop Khalil Mack. The Chargers added Mack this offseason with the idea of pairing Bosa and Mack on either side of the line would overwhelm most offenses. Without Bosa, they have not been able to see that plan reach fruition, but it does not change that Mack is a force Miami has to identify and stop. He has seven sacks on the year and will be looking to take advantage of a Dolphins offensive line that continues to deal with injuries. Will he wreck the Miami offense or will the Dolphins be able to stop Mack?
Slowing Justin Herbert
The Chargers are 6-6 on the season and are underachieving. Yet Herbert is still fourth in the league in passing yards, having thrown for 3,339 so far this season, an average of 278.3 per game. He is putting up numbers and can explode at any time, but the Chargers do not always have success even when Harbert has a big game.
Earlier this week, when we spoke to Michael Peterson from Bolts from the Blue, he stressed, “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.”
The Dolphins, with all of the injuries to the secondary this season, are facing a quarterback who can get hot and carve up the defense. They have to make Herbert’s 278.3 yards per game average heads lower after the game.
The Dolphins drafted the right guy
This ties into the slowing Herbert line, and is really more of a Miami thing than it is a Los Angeles discussion topic, but there are plenty of fans who are still debating the Dolphins’ choice of Tagovailoa - who leads the league in Pro Bowl voting - with the fifth pick in 2020, allowing the Chargers to select Herbert with the sixth pick. There will be discussion of that during the game at some point, so we will just leave this here: