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Week 10: Chargers vs Dolphins Keys to Success

The Chargers got a win last week to keep their playoff hopes alive. What do they need to do to get another?

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers celebrates on the way to a 43-35 win over the Tennessee Titans
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers celebrates on the way to a 43-35 win over the Tennessee Titans
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers came into last Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. As always, the Chargers found a way to make things interesting, but this time the outcome would be in their favor as they defeated the visiting Titans 43-35.

This Sunday, the Chargers face a new opponent in the Miami Dolphins, but the level of significance within this game remains the same. A loss on Sunday at home to a very-beatable Dolphins team (4-4) would almost certainly put an end to any kind of playoff hopes and dreams San Diego may have.

As the Chargers head into another crucial matchup, let's take a quick look at their opponent, the Miami Dolphins.

  • 4-4 record (Won three straight, 2nd in AFC East)
  • 30th in defending the run, allowing 136.1 yards per game
  • 8th in defending the pass, allowing just 226.5 yards per game.
  • 6th in rushing offense (122.1 ypg)
  • 29th in passing offense (218.0 ypg)

After taking a glance at the numbers, this matchup may come across as being in favor of the Chargers. Melvin Gordon just ran wild last week for 196 yards and a TD, while also catching four passes for 65 yards on a much more stout defense in the Titans. Running the ball successfully again this week would be huge, but there are more keys to success that the Chargers must execute in order to come away with a win on Sunday.

1. Contain Jay Ajayi

This will certainly be more easily said than done, as Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is arguably the the hottest running back in the league right now. Ajayi’s numbers from his last three games are flat-out ridiculous:

Week 6 vs Pittsburgh Steelers: 25 attempts, 204 yards, 2 TDs. (8.2 yards per carry)

Week 7 vs Buffalo Bills: 28 attempts, 214 yards, 1 TD. (7.6 yards per carry)

Week 8 vs New York Jets: 24 attempts, 111 yards, 1 TD. (4.6 yards per carry)

Ajayi is red-hot right now, and the Chargers will have their hands full with trying bottle him up. Although they've given up a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns, San Diego has only surrendered 85.3 rushing yards per game, which is good for 5th in the NFL. Ajayi poses the biggest threat right now to this Chargers defense. If San Diego wants to keep their season alive and come away with a win, stopping this Dolphins rushing attack is crucial.

2. Force Ryan Tannehill to beat you from the pocket.

From the pocket, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill hasn't been anything special this season. To this point, he's produced a completion percentage of 64.7% (14th in NFL), 1,877 yards (19th in NFL), only eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tannehill hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, but he's only thrown two touchdowns in the same time period. His offensive line didn't provide much help early on, as they would allow 17 sacks through the first five games. They've been a much improved unit as of late, having only allowed two sacks in the team’s last three outings. Pressure from Joey Bosa and the rest of the defense is essential since Tannehill has sometimes struggled with decision-making when the ball is in his hands. Generating enough pressure and forcing Tannehill into bad decisions is another thing that could pull the odds of victory into the Chargers favor.

3. Continue to feed Melvin Gordon.

Although Mike McCoy would disagree, when you have a hot hand, you don't go away from it. As crazy as Jay Ajayi has been these last three weeks, Melvin Gordon has arguably been just as productive. Gordon's last three games have looked like this:

Week 6 at Atlanta Falcons: 22 attempts, 68 yards, 2 TDs. 6 catches, 53 yards and 1 receiving TD.

Week 7 at Denver Broncos: 23 attempts for 111 yards, and 4 catches for 44 yards.

Week 8 vs Tennessee Titans: 32 attempts, 196 yards, 1 TD. 4 catches for 65 yards.

As I mentioned earlier, the Dolphins have been horrible against the run thus far. If this trend continues, Melvin Gordon might be in for a repeat of last week’s game against Tennessee. His 261 yards from scrimmage was the second-most in a game in Chargers franchise history. Running the ball effectively again this week not only benefits Gordon, but it'll help control the clock and keep the ball away from Miami. However, this is still the Chargers and they could still find a way to lose, but if they don't turn the ball over and are able control the clock, it's hard not to like their chances.

The Chargers know exactly how much is at stake in this game. A loss could essentially end the team’s playoff hopes, barring collapses from Oakland, Denver and Kansas City. However, if the Chargers are able to execute these three keys, it's hard for me believe that they won't walk away with a win on Sunday.