The Miami Dolphins’ offense had a rough afternoon in San Francisco. They turned the ball over four times (their highest total of the season), struggled to sustain drives, and failed to produce much of anything on the ground. In spite of all of that, the team was driving into 49er territory late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead.
I don’t want to focus on what went wrong in San Francisco because it was glaringly obvious to anyone who watched the game. Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy-which had been the driving force in his MVP candidacy-was just off for large spurts of the game.
He didn’t just wake up that Sunday and decide to struggle though, the 49ers’ defense presented unique problems that put him off rhythm and in an uncomfortable state. There were two main things that contributed to that; their pass rush and off-ball linebackers.
If the majority of Dolphins fans were nervous about the offensive line having to face off against Nick Bosa without their star left tackle (Terron Armstead), then how do you think Tua and Mike McDaniel felt about it? The good news is that they had some success game-planning around this matchup.
Tua was only pressured on 10 of his 36 dropbacks-even if 3 of those pressures were converted into sacks. They did that by getting the ball out of his hands quickly. His 2.40 seconds ATT (average time to throw) was the second fastest of any qualifying quarterback for week 13 and a full .10 of a second faster than his regular season figure (per PFF).
Knowing that the ball has to come out that quickly can make a quarterback uncomfortable. When you couple that with the fact that Tua was facing the best linebacking corps in the NFL, it’s a recipe for disaster. This is the most congested Tua will ever find the middle of the football field (his bread and butter) in a game where he knew the ball had to come out quickly. In hindsight, it’s not shocking that he was a bit “off.”
Onto the Los Angeles Chargers
The good news is that Nick Bosa, Dre Greenlaw, and Fred Warner do not play for the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers have some of their own difficult players to deal with, but it shouldn’t be as problematic as it was a week ago.
For this week’s article, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see where the Las Vegas Raiders had the most success against this Chargers defense and speculate if Miami could duplicate this success. The Raiders started (and ended) the game slowly, but were able to put up 27 points in just over two quarters against this Chargers defense. How did they do it?
When reviewing the game one thing stood out above all else, the middle of the field was wide open. The Chargers’ linebackers never seemed to have enough depth to effect these middle-of-the-field throws on zone calls and in man coverage the Chargers just didn’t have the guys to stick with the Raiders’ receiving corps.
This concept should look really familiar to Dolphins fans because Hill and Waddle have been killing defenses with it all year. If the Chargers leave the MOF open like this, Tua and this passing attack should have a ton of success. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/3unRTFbenf— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 9, 2022
This concept specifically stood out because it’s something Miami loves to use. They’ll have two or three receivers on one side and send an inside receiver on a go route to clear out the safety and whoever else is in the area (effectively a deep pick-play). Typically it will be Waddle or Hill on the outside, so they have a coverage player several yards on top of them to counter their speed. When that outside WR breaks into the middle of the field, the only thing that can prevent a completion is if the linebackers get enough depth to make a play on the ball. The Chargers backers did not do that.
The other thing the Raiders did well against this Chargers' defense is scheme up favorable 1 on 1 matchups. pic.twitter.com/WPccw0EIX0— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 9, 2022
The other really effective thing that the Raiders were able to do is get 1 on 1 matchups for their guys. You would think coming into a game against the Raiders, your #1 concern would be stopping Davante Adams. I’m sure the Chargers had that same thought, but nonetheless, the Raiders found ways to isolate coverage players in these situations and they took advantage when they got these looks.
The Raiders also were very effective in running the football against this Charger defense. If the Dolphins can establish a ground game, it will help take pressure off of Tua and this offensive line.
I’m trying to avoid jinxing this Miami offense, but this feels like a favorable situation for them. They’re going from what is likely the best group of off-ball linebackers in the NFL with the 49ers to what may be the worst with the Chargers. I would expect the middle of the field to be open for Tua once again and for this offense to have chunk plays much more consistently. If they can get these 1 on 1 matchups against the Chargers, we may see fireworks in Los Angeles this weekend.