Ah, I feel like a real person again. I'm just healthy enough to start getting excited for Sunday's game. Although I went into the Ravens gaming concerned, and the Dolphins philosophy reminds me of the Ravens philosophy, I am much more confident this week.
You'll see why as we travel through both rosters and do an in-depth preview on this Week 3 matchup after the jump.
When the Dolphins Have the Ball
Let's assume Travis Johnson's groin will not be ready to play on Sunday. That leaves the Chargers in the same spot as last week, with a rookie from Canada and a 2nd year player with limited experience playing DT. It also leaves the team with one real backup DE, whom has been with the team for less than a week and has never played in a 3-4 defense. Oh boy.
Enter the number 3 ranked running offense and powerful offensive line of the Miami Dolphins. Although they add a bit more trickery into the mix with the Wildcat formation, this is essentially the same challenge the Bolts faced in Baltimore (who rank 4th in running). The Chargers, with their patchwork defensive line, need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Call me a fool, but I think they can do it. Here's why: Chad Pennington.
These are essentially the same teams that faced each other in 2008, with the Dolphins coming out on top 17-10. Chad Pennington went 22-29 for 228 yards and 1 TD in that game, and every time he dropped back to pass he had enough time to take a picture of the defense, analyze it, take a nap and then choose where he wanted to throw the ball. Ted Cottrell was still the Chargers' Defensive Coordinator. The Ravens showed everyone in the 2008 Playoffs that Pennington cannot handle the blitz, and the Dolphins don't have any receivers that cannot be covered one-on-one. Ron Rivera is not dumb enough to miss that that.
Expect a lot of blitzing. Will the Chargers be able to stop Ronnie Brown? I have no idea. All they need to do is slow him down. Kevin Burnett can blanket Anthony Fasano, Antonio Cromartie can stay with Ted Ginn Jr. and Quentin Jammer can suffocate Greg Camarillo. All they need is a decent pass-rush, and I think they'll get it.
Advantage: Tie. Through 2 weeks, the Dolphins rank 27th in passing offense and 17th in overall offense. They've surrendered 6 sacks in two games, tying them for 5th worst in the league. The Chargers rank 24th in the league in rushing defense, 13th in passing defense and 20th in overall defense. If the Chargers can get a lead and start blitzing, they'll take the Wildcat off the field and force Pennington to throw with pressure in his face. Strange as it might sound, this is exactly the type of game we want to get in. With a team so one-dimensional, Clinton Hart be the eighth man in the box and be more of a strength than a weakness. With an offense so heavily-reliant on the running game, they'll lose in a shootout.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
This should be fun, Chargers fans. Philip Rivers going up against a very young, inexperienced secondary that has had difficulty defending Tight Ends in 2009. Sean Smith, a rookie, will be lining up on Vincent Jackson because he can match VJ in speed and size (he's 6'3"). He's done a very good job in his first 2 games, but as a rookie he's always a risk to get burned.
Miami's defense is ranked 14th overall, 23rd against the pass and 7th at stopping the run. Just like last week, this should equate to a Chargers gameplan of pass, pass, pass, pass and pass some more. With one more week of practice, the offense should do a better job of avoiding false start and delay of game penalties.
Let there be no mistake about it. The Chargers want to get in a track meet with the Dolphins. The Dolphins cannot match the offensive output of the Chargers, and they're at a disadvantage because they are coming off a short week and flying cross-country. The Chargers are home for a second straight week and have had normal rest. This should be mentioned and stressed over and over again. When Vincent Jackson or Darren Sproles or Antonio Gates is getting chased down the field, he'll be just a bit fresher than the defenders trying to catch him.
Advantage: Chargers. Once again I expect the Chargers to spread their offense out. With 3 WRs and Antonio Gates, they're forcing at least 2 rookies to play important roles on the Dolphins defense. They're also opening up even more holes for Antonio Gates, who should have a huge game. Philip Rivers may not have all the time in the world, with Joey Porter and Jason Taylor coming after him, but he should be able to find holes in the defense all afternoon and keep the chains moving. Unlike the Colts, who are currently thin at WR and had trouble spreading the Dolphins out, the Chargers will not need to try to force a running game that may not be there.
I am very confident going into this game. Overconfident maybe. However, the Chargers have the number one passing offense in the league. They can hang with the best offenses and stay in the game against the best defenses.
The key to this game will be blown assignments. Cromartie and Clinton Hart gave up the easy TD late to the Raiders, which forced Rivers to win the game at the end. Antoine Cason gave up an easy TD early to the Ravens, which proved to be the difference in the game. If the defense can stay on their assignments, the offense should be able to put up enough points to put the game on Chad Pennington's shoulders. That's precisely the situation the Chargers want to be in.