The Miami Dolphins are 3 1/2-point favorites on the road for a couple of excellent seasons. They have a better team and they also play very well against the Los Angeles Chargers. Here’s the weekly rundown of five ways you can win:
1. Attack, attack, attack. The NFL is all about matchups, and Miami’s offense couldn’t have a better matchup. There is a retractable roof of SoFi Stadium to ensure the perfect conditions. This is not like playing a normal road game, as this stadium is usually packed with so many fans rooting for the opponent that the Chargers offense has to use a silent count. There’s Mike McDaniel’s matchup against Chargers coach Brandon Staley, a defensive-minded coach whose defense was ranked 30th last year and likely will be again this year. The Chargers aren’t just lousy in key stats like yards allowed (26th), points allowed (30), third-down conversion percentage allowed (26) and sack percentage (26). They are likely to have four fewer starters this week, including Pro Bowl safety Derwin James, who leads the team in tackles, interceptions leader Bryce Callahan and top defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day. That comes on top of losses to pass-rusher Joey Bosa and Pro Bowl cornerback JC Jackson earlier in the year. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had a rough week last game in San Francisco. This should be a recovery week before Buffalo. The Dolphins can attack any defense. A bad, wounded defense should be no match for the Dolphins’ passing attack.
2. Blitz Herbert, but with discipline. The Chargers can’t protect Justin Herbert, and it’s gotten worse as the season has gone on. Through 10 games, he was the 11th most pressured quarterback, being pressured on 34.5 percent of his passes, according to TruMedia. Since then, he’s been pressured a league-high 44.4 percent. That coincided with injuries to not only Pro Bowl tackle Rashawn Slater (lost earlier in the year), but also center Corey Linsley and right-hander Trey Pipkins. Kansas City and Las Vegas dominated the Chargers’ offensive line with blitzes in recent games. Again, in a matchup league, this fits exactly what defensive coordinator Josh Boyer likes to do. The caution is that Herbert is good when his pocket is running low. Therefore, he must stay in his disciplined lanes when he presses. Linsley is expected to return from concussion protocol for Sunday’s game. But the bombardment should be able to reach Herbert.
3. Key matchup: Xavien Howard vs. Keenan Allen or Mike Williams. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins strategize on Sunday. Howard is typically put in a top receiver and San Diego has Allen and Williams on the field together on one of the few occasions this year. They have played 46 snaps together all year, less than a typical game. Herbert is fourth in the league in passing yards, but no receiver is in the top 30. That tells you how long his best players have been out. Is Howard a great route runner but more of a possession receiver like Allen? Or the most dynamic receiver in the Williams type of speed? You can go either way, but I hope Howard picks Allen and a safety to help Williams. We’ll see. If Howard can keep Williams, it would mean less space for others on the field. That’s a big ask, though, and we’ll see how the Dolphins play it out.
4. Protect the ball. The Chargers’ defense does one thing well, or at least it did with a representative roster. They create turnovers. They rank 10th in the league with 17 turnovers. They are seventh with a margin of plus four. Tagovailoa had a fumble and two interceptions (one when the receiver fell) last week in San Francisco. He hadn’t had an interception since the September before that. Turnovers may be the only way the Chargers’ defense could stop the Dolphins’ offense.
5. Recover from last week and understand that this is the season for the Chargers. The Dophins should be buoyed by last week’s loss in San Francisco while watching the video. Why? Well, they showed that they can play a great defense away from home. They should still have a comeback effort against a Chargers team that’s probably done if they lose. The Chargers are 6-6 and out of the playoffs right now. If they win on Sunday, they have a 79 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN, and if they lose, they have a 39 percent chance. Throw in the fact that coach Brandon Staley will be a candidate to be fired if they miss the playoffs and you understand this is a desperate Chargers team. Injured. But desperate.