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San Diego Chargers' Very Good Offense vs. Miami Dolphins' Very Good Defense

A numeric overview, comparing the two teams, starting at the highest, team level, moving down to offensive and defensive units, a list of each team's best and worst players and comprehensive list of all players.

Please, Ryan, more of you doing this.
Please, Ryan, more of you doing this.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As we have been progressing through the season, I have been running, refining and occasionally publishing a detailed view of San Diego's team and their current adversary. The metrics used are mostly derived from Pro Football Focus data (metric name PFFM), with my methodology outlined in a prior article. At the total team, team offense and team defense levels, I incorporate Football Outsiders' DVOA metric.

The numbers outline teams that are kind of reflections of each other. Miami (MIA) has a very good defense (4th best according to DVOA, behind DET, DEN and BUF) and competent offense.  San Diego (SDC) has a very good offense (2nd, well behind DEN) and poor defense (according to DVOA) or a competent defense, according to PFF.

MIA's defensive strength is up front, a great DL and LB corp. SDC's strength is Phillip Rivers. As a Charger fan, I hope San Diego runs a fast, no huddle, imaginative and high percentage passing game, with selective runs mixed in and keeps their defense fresh. I expect San Diego to have great difficulty running the ball, especially when the run is broadcast by the personnel group and alignment. If San Diego can get points forcing a shoot out or getting a lead, and the game comes down to Tannehill vs. Rivers, I like San Diego's chances.

OK, to the numbers. Below are the team trends, showing both PFFM and DVOA.


Note: on defensive DVOA, I reversed their sign (negative is good), so a positive score on my charts is a good thing.

So, looking at the team metrics, MIA is headed in the right direction. Remember they were part of those last miraculous four weeks for San Diego, so without the apparent divine intervention on San Diego's behalf, Miami could have easily been in the playoffs. And their gains are coming on both sides of the ball, though led by their defense.

The next few charts show key offensive personnel groups for all the NFL teams, with the SDC and MIA teams highlighted by the closest to their team color I could find. This data all comes from the PFFM. The scales on the charts are the same. This data is team score broken into position groups. The OL is generally much lower than the QB chart because the OL group has less influence on the team metric than the QB.


What jumps out is the strength of San Diego: the QB position. Miami's score is positive; Tannehill is good. But Rivers is great. MIA has an edge in OL, RB while SDC has better metrics for the receiving corp.

On defense, we see that MIA is very good up front and SDC has the edge in the secondary.


Their secondary is solid, but San Diego's, with Flowers, Verrett and Weddle, is very good. Having Verrett out hurts SDC, but it is amazing that San Diego is getting that kind of production from a rookie. MIA is very strong on their line and solid in the LB corp as well.

A view I like to see illustrates my view of these two teams, great offense (SDC) vs. great defense (MIA), and solid offense (MIA) vs. solid defense (SDC).


Great offense for SDC, solid offense for MIA. Great defense for MIA, solid defense for SDC. These numbers do include Verrett's contribution, so his absence is pretty painful for SDC.

Now down to individual players. The charts below show the best and worst scores for both teams for individual players. Their are two versions of the best and worst for each team. One the 10 best and worst by the PFFM at the team level. So this is the blend of the player's score plus the weight assigned to the position he plays. The other 10 best and worst is sorted by individual score of the player, regardless of the position weight. Most of the players on one list are on the other (they are highlighted in gray) but the ones unique to that list are not highlighted and shown with a white background.

For MIA:


So starting with the upper left chart, this shows which players are most important to the team. As you might expect, 8 of the 10 players are from their defense, though the QB position is right up there. Tannehill is good. Brandon Albert is a good tackle. But this is list mostly belongs to their defense, and Cameron Wake is their dominant player. San Diego handled players with similar scores with the NY Jets (they have a similar DL), but that was coupled with an incompetent offense. Here San Diego is not as fortunate.

Miami's defense is not without holes, as there are a few defenders on their bottom 10 list, but, that list mostly belongs to the offense.

For SDC:


For San Diego, it is all about Rivers and their secondary. Their good secondary, because after that trio, the quality drops off quickly. Again, this highlights how important Verrett has been. By these metrics, he has been the third most valuable player.

The bottom 10 for San Diego illustrate why the running game has struggled, despite a good score for Oliver. Donald Brown, David Johnson as a FB and the OL have struggled.

Finally, for those who are still reading and want still more data (probably a select few), here are entire teams for both MIA and SDC.  Also, for Charger fans, there is a poll of your fears of this game at the end.  Enjoy.

Miami and San Diego by position group: