Two weeks ago, the Dolphins weren’t all that intimidating. But Miami is now 5-3 and they’re looking like one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
The Chargers, on the other hand, are barely getting by on the residuals of Justin Herbert’s blazing start to his career. The rookie has done as well as anyone could have dreamed when it comes to giving the Bolts the best chance to win each week, but their lack of closing on defense and inability to cause turnovers has kept them from reaching their potential thus far.
In this week’s game against Miami, they’ll face one of their toughest tests to date. With all eyes on the premiere matchup between rookie quarterbacks, here’s how I believe the Bolts can come away with a W in Week 10.
1.) Bolts must have plenty of answers against pressure
The Dolphins went from being a train wreck in 2019 to being one of the most-surprising and aggressive teams in the NFL halfway through the 2020 season. Even with a bunch of guys who aren’t near household names, they’re able to get after the quarterback and cause fits for opposing offense.
Through eight weeks, the Dolphins are #2 in percentage of Zero Blitzes — which is a term for blitzing with zero safeties deep — at 8.6%. That means that in almost 1-in-10 plays, the Dolphins send the house. On a broader level, Miami is fifth in total blitz percentage at 36.2%. They love getting after the quarterback early and often and it’s been working out for them more times than not.
The Dolphins have been especially successful when they get backed up into the red zone. The defense allows 384.3 yards per game — 22nd in the NFL — but only allow 20.1 points per game, which is good for 4th fewest among all teams.
So not only do the Chargers have to have numerous answers to pressure, they have to find a way to flip the script with their negative tendencies on offense, which is putting the ball in the end zone when they get close. And I’ll tell you right now, good luck throwing those goal-line fades against a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.
2.) Be ready for the inside run
It was all too apparent against the Raiders that the Chargers still don’t have any answers for teams who can run the ball between the tackles. They did their best to mitigate the issue when they signed defensive tackle Linval Joseph during free agency but adding one run-stopper to a defensive line who only had one beforehand isn’t an automatic recipe for success. However, it didn’t help that Joey Bosa missed last week’s game and Jerry Tillery was forced into a bigger role on the edge. The defense struggled to set the edge or plug up the middle and they’re about to face a Dolphins team that runs the ball between between the tackles on 81.4% of their handoffs, good for the highest percentage in the NFL.
The Dolphins are still without their starting running back Myles Gaskin, but they still roster the speedy Matt Breida and veteran Jordan Howard, who can still find success in short-yardage situations.
Their running back situation, and interior offensive line, is not on the same level as the Raiders, but a weakness is a weakness. I’m not saying someone like Breida is going to run rampant on Sunday, but he’s a missed tackle away from taking one to the house. As you all know, missed tackles are still a thing with this team in 2020.
3.) If there was a game to protect the football, this is it
In Tua’s first NFL start against the Rams, he didn’t have to do all that much. That’s because the Miami defense and special teams units were actually able to put up more points for the Dolphins than the rookie needed to in order to come away victorious.
On the year, the Dolphins have scored two defensive touchdowns and a single punt return. If you take those away, they average roughly 25 points per game, same as the Bolts. Despite that, the Chargers average almost 100 yards of offense more than Miami, meaning the difference between these two teams has been efficiency in the red zone. Pair that with the Dolphins having a +5 mark in turnover differential — 4th in the NFL — and the Chargers being near the bottom with a -3, and it becomes much clearer that this game will come down to whoever plays the cleaner game.