We finally made it; the Miami Dolphins take on the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday afternoon/early evening (depending on your time zone). Usually, we would push out this Friday article as a chance to break down some opponent film from their previous contest(s). Since we’re just wrapping up the preseason, we don’t have any meaningful 2023 Chargers film to look at.
That means our next best thing is to break down Miami’s disappointing 2022 performance in SoFi Stadium against the Los Angeles Chargers. The talking heads will be asking whether Mike McDaniel and Tua can make the necessary adjustments against this Charger defense in 2023. Let’s look at the film and see where things went wrong.
What was their game plan?
There seems to be some confusion on this, so let’s talk about how the Chargers attacked Miami’s offense. They played a higher percentage of man coverage, were physical with Miami’s receivers, flooded the middle of the field, and trusted their front four to get home. It wasn’t anything overly complex, they just executed each phase at a high level.
One of the most noticeable things from last year's game is how the Chargers challenged Miami's receivers. At the LOS, down the field, and at the catch point. pic.twitter.com/vWCcfxki2y— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 8, 2023
This was probably the most surprising and risky decision by the Charger’s coaching staff. They got in the face of Miami’s receivers and were physical all evening. The extra attention to the middle of the field meant that they would be leaving guys on an island all day. Sounds like the exact opposite thing that you would want to do against Miami, but it worked.
Miami’s bread and butter had been middle-of-the-field, intermediate throws. The Chargers made sure to contest these no matter what, and more often than not Miami failed to complete them. You could argue that defenders should have been flagged more, but if the refs aren’t calling it you need to adjust.
This was all compounded by their struggles in pass protection. The Chargers mostly only sent four guys, but on every play they either disguised who was coming or they ran some kind of game upfront. pic.twitter.com/nCSIfW60P5— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 8, 2023
The other key thing here is being able to get home with four guys, something they did routinely throughout the game. There were a few plays where Miami’s guys just lost the rep, but more often they were just confused.
The Chargers would walk five or six guys up to the line of scrimmage on almost every play. Each time a couple would peel off to cover the middle of the field, but you never really knew which was peeling off and which was coming. It created a ton of free rushers on plays where Miami is blocking five and the Chargers are bringing four.
If they weren’t disguising their pressures, they were executing a twist or some other pass-rush game up front. It meant that Tua never knew when (or if) he would have time to survey the entire field and make a throw. It kept them off balance.
It all worked in tandem
This is the part that most people probably aren’t putting together. Each thing that the Chargers did was meant to work in tandem with the rest. So, they emphasized getting pressure on Tua while just rushing four. If that works, they know that Tua is going to be looking to unload the football in the middle of the field. To combat that they drop more middle-of-field defenders to contest or take away those throws.
On the outside, he has players working through press coverage (which takes time). They’re also bracketing Tyreek and Waddle as often as possible. One of the things you need to set up these deep shots is time in the pocket, and Tua didn’t have it.
How did Miami attempt to respond?
As you would expect, Miami tried to take advantage of some of these looks and just missed on too many. Twice where receivers can't track the ball and twice where it's just an inch away from being a big completion. pic.twitter.com/NWi4aTJ66w— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 8, 2023
The Chargers dared Miami to beat them deep and the Dolphins attempted to oblige. Tua’s 12.8 ADOT (average depth of target) was the highest in the NFL that week. They were successful once on a touchdown to Tyreek, but for the most part, they came up just short. Twice Tua had good throws that were just unable to be tracked and the other times they were just an inch away from being big completions.
The running game was efficient, but Miami failed to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. As soon as they got around mid-field, there would be drops, missed throws, or pressures/sacks. The Charger’s entire game plan revolved around making Miami/Tua uncomfortable and that is exactly what they were.
Keys to victory in 2023
While it will be important for the defense to step up against Herbert, the Dolphins aren’t likely to win this game without putting forward a better offensive performance. For that reason, we will focus on their offense and what they can do to ensure a victory this Sunday.
Don’t try to score in one play all game long. Lean on the running game and mix up your play calls. Take what the defense gives you and scheme up some easier throws to the flats just as a way to stay in rhythm. Tua could also have a good game as a runner in this one. Not something that all fans may want to see much of, but he had opportunities in last year’s contest. They also need their third and fourth receivers to step up in this one because Waddle & Hill will be getting a lot of attention.
I firmly believe that last year’s Chargers game led to many of their off-season moves. One of the first was to bring in new offensive line coach Butch Barry. Sometimes defenses just do a good job of disguising their intent, but there was no reason for the Chargers to get home so often while only rushing three or four guys. Force the Chargers to bring extra guys and throwing lanes will start to open up.
Take advantage of opportunities
We don’t know if the Chargers will duplicate their game plan from last year. If they do, then Miami needs to find ways to take advantage of that one-on-one coverage on the outside. Like we said earlier that could also mean the third or fourth option in the passing attack making things happen (another early move in the offseason-adding new receivers). If they’re going to play aggressively, you need to make them pay for it.
Mike McDaniel has had a few months to think about this one. The offense will have an answer for Brandon Staley and this thing could turn into a shootout. Not having Jalen Ramsey will hurt Miami in coverage and make it difficult to contain Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Austin Eckler will be a big part of their game plan, so it will be interesting to see how the rush defense is with Sieler/Wilkins in the middle and the addition of David Long to the linebacker unit.
This one could go either way and should come down to just a few plays. While I’m not overly confident that they’ll pull this one out, I’m going with a 31-28 Miami victory to open the season.