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Dolphins vs. Chargers Week 1 preview: An insider look at LA, Justin Herbert, 2023 expectations

As the Miami Dolphins prepare to face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1 of the 2023 regular season, we get some Chargers insight from Bolts from the Blue.

The Miami Dolphins are a little over 24 hours from kicking off the 2023 regular season with a cross-country visit to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Dolphins and Chargers met late last season, with Los Angeles shutting down Miami’s offensive attack for most of the game and coming away with a 23-17 win. What can the Dolphins do differently in this game to come away with the victory?

To get a better idea of exactly how Miami can attack the Chargers, as well as what fans are expecting from LA this year, we turned to our friends at SB Nation’s Chargers team site, Bolts from the Blue, to provide some insight. Kyle DeDiminicantanio was kind enough to answer my questions about the Chargers. We discussed LA’s new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who was a finalist for the Dolphins’ head coaching vacancy in 2022 before Mike McDaniel was hired for the job; the job security for head coach Brandon Staley; the dynamic duo of edge rusher Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa; expectations for quarterback Justin Herbert this year; and if the game will meet oddsmakers expectations of an offensive shootout.

Thanks to DeDiminicantanio for taking the time to give us this closer look at the Chargers.

Kellen Moore was in the discussion to be Miami’s head coach in 2022 before Mike McDaniel was hired. Now, he is moving over to the Chargers as the offensive coordinator looking to prove the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive struggles were not because of his game planning. What changes to the Chargers’ offense have you seen and what do you expect on Sunday?

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

When Joe Lombardi arrived in 2021, he wasn’t greeted with the same fanfare Kellen Moore has been. There were plenty of questions about his prior shortcomings as a coordinator whenever he stepped out from Sean Payton’s shadow, but the Chargers had the fifth-ranked scoring offense in his first year. The combination of injuries to Justin Herbert’s weapons and the loss of his blindside protector were compounded by his rib injury; he was noticeably quicker to get rid of the football and his throwing motion was clearly affected. The offense dropped to the 13th-ranked scoring offense as a result. A healthy Justin Herbert alone should really boost this offense significantly.

The real change Kellen Moore should bring to the table is a more focused and efficient rushing attack. In 2021, they ranked 16th in yards per rush, and in 2022 that dropped to 30th, despite consistent investment in the offensive line. Players have repeatedly said in camp this year that Moore is implementing a plan with his rushing attack in a way they never saw with Lombardi. They alluded to the run being used as a tool to open up the pass, as opposed to a weapon itself. I think most fans would agree that we’re hoping Moore brings a more balanced approach, where the running game’s efficiency opens the door to more downfield opportunities. We saw many short passes and stick concepts used in lieu of a proper rushing attack, which made it very difficult for this team to close out games... which you probably saw if you watched them in the playoffs.

Sticking with the coach topic - how much of a hot seat is Brandon Staley on this year? What does he need to do to save his job?

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

Ask a different fan, and you may get a different answer! Some might say that merely winning a playoff game would be enough to save Staley’s job, which would demonstrate slow growth in each season. I think Brandon Staley needs to find both team success and defensive success to stay the head coach of the Chargers. He finished 30th in defensive scoring in 2021, and 21st in 2022. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an improvement... but it’s tough to justify tying a sub-average ranked defensive head coach to a franchise quarterback, and sentencing the quarterback to a revolving door of offensive coordinators and schemes.

There’s certainly a scenario where the Chargers get bounced out of the divisional or conference round led by a top-five offense, and Tom Telesco has to make a tough call. Kellen Moore will likely be getting interview requests and head coach interest, so if the defense is even average, does it make sense to let Moore leave the building? Personally, I think Staley needs to show he can bring the elite defense he advertised with his 2020 campaign to entrench himself as the head coach of this football team.

That said - if the Chargers don’t meet expectations, which I’d set at the bare minimum a divisional round exit, it should also mean the exit of Tom Telesco. He restructured the contracts of Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Mike Williams, and Keenan Allen to give one last go with this unit. We’re in a very unhealthy position with our cap next year, and if we mortgaged our future for another disappointment of a year, expect some heads to roll.

The Chargers have a healthy pairing of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack for the first time. This has to have LA fans dreaming of the possibilities of the defense this year. What are the expectations for the tandem and the defense as a whole? How would you attack the defense if you were running Miami’s offense?

Chargers Rams at SoFi Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The expectations for Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack are sky-high. Heading into the offseason, fans expected one or two of the Mack, Bosa, Allen, and Williams core to be offloaded for cap purposes. Instead, they restructured them all, and pushed the cap consequences into next year. Bosa and Mack are burdened with carrying the expectations for this defense, as Staley’s defense often sacrifices a linebacker or defensive lineman for an extra defensive back, creating a mismatch when defending the run. Teams have found success and broken off many explosive runs running off-tackle when Staley fields this “lite front,” as they normally have enough of a mismatch to double-team the EDGE and leave the running back isolated against undersized slot corner or safety. Bosa has admitted that he and Mack have put on some extra pounds this offseason to prioritize being more balanced defenders instead of pass-rush specialists. Outside of Derwin James, and more recently Alohi Gilman, the defensive backs haven’t been as reliable against the run as Staley’s scheme requires... so the hope is that Mack and Bosa stay healthy and stout on the edge.

As previously mentioned, the expectations are definitely for Staley to turn this unit into an above-average or elite defense. They have the personnel, and the payroll, to demand it. Even if Bosa or Mack are lost for multiple games, Staley needs to show that the scheme can survive without them, because it’s highly unlikely we see that tandem in 2024.

Los Angeles Chargers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Miami’s plan last year against Staley was interesting and seemed calculated. I believe McDaniel wanted to target Alohi Gilman, who was filling in for the injured Derwin James, but Gilman surprised all of us with his play. I honestly believe if Gilman didn’t break up that opening wheel route to Tyreek, it would have been a completely different game. If McDaniel focuses his scheme on exploiting Kenneth Murray, I think the Chargers could be in for a long day. According to PFF, Alec Ingold and Raheem Mostert received a target each in the game. Assuming he’s healthy, I’d focus on getting De’Von Achane involved. Release your weak-side receiver on a deep post (Staley’s scheme often leaves the weak-side CB on an island, with the safety overhead cheating towards the middle of the field, spying for a crossing route from the strong side), and Achane will often find himself isolated with only Murray or Kendricks to beat. If the weak-side corner releases the receiver and stays in the flat, Staley called a Cover 2, and the safety won’t be cheating towards the middle of the field, so the post route has a chance to split the safeties for an explosive. Staley periodically drops a linebacker back to a Tampa-2 depth and leaves a ton of underneath room, so a receiver running an 8-10 yard dig concept would be a perfect third option in this scenario.

Keeping in mind that Staley often isolates the weak-side cornerback and relies on linebackers to cover crossing routes, I’d explore more drag routes from Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle after lining up strong-side. That’s the area you want to exploit against Staley’s passing defense.

Besides that, I’d really focus on running the ball more. McDaniel called 11 and 21-personnel sets 27 and 19 times in the last matchup, respectively. Staley deployed a nickel or a dime package in all but five plays. He’s giving you a light box, even when you stack it with some blockers, so take advantage of the running room he’s giving you. Trust me - it drives us nuts.

What are your expectations for Justin Herbert this season?

Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

We’ll remember last year for Herbert’s grit and determination, not necessarily for his performance. Our depth at receiver was awful, and was exposed with Williams and Allen missing considerable time. There’s no such excuse this year as they brought back Jaylen Guyton (who’s a sneaky deep weapon when Herbert’s healthy), and drafted Quentin Johnston and Darius Davis. His release has returned to its usual high point, so we’re really expecting a healthy Herbert to make people forget about last year.

The Chargers are only favored by three points in this game, essentially giving them the home-field advantage points, but the DraftKings Sportsbook oddsmakers see this as a relatively even game. They do see it as an offensive shootout, making the point total 51 points, the second-highest mark of the week. Do you think this plays out with both offenses putting up points, with a close score at the end?

Miami Dolphins v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I’m a believer that a healthy Tua is capable of being a top quarterback in the league, especially in this offense. When I went back and watched the tape from last year, I was surprised how many passes were off-target or looks were missed that could have opened the game up for the Dolphins. I don’t think the Chargers get that fortunate twice. The biggest storyline for your offense, in my opinion, is whether they get solid production from their running backs both on the ground and through the air. Last year, McDaniel called 33 pass plays and 16 run plays. Balance that out to passing no more than 55% of the time, and I think our defense will be in for a big challenge, and we may see a blow-for-blow type game the books are predicting. Continue to force-feed the pass and you’re just playing into Staley’s scheme.

I’ll be fascinated to watch your defense play. I was hoping Staley would entice Vic Fangio to join the Bolts by promising to step down as a play-caller, but knew it was a real long shot. Staley’s defense comes straight from Fangio, and we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s such a unique and complicated style of defense that it takes a couple offseasons to get the right personnel in place, and some time for players to adapt to it. If Fangio comes out guns blazing and shuts down the offense we’ve been dying to see, I’ll be equally enamored with the possibility of Miami’s ceiling this season and depressed that the defensive woes truly seem to stem directly from Staley.

For more on the Chargers, make sure to check out Bolts from the Blue.

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