The last time the Miami Dolphins were prepping for a game, I boldy predicted not once but twice, that the team would beat the New England Patriots. I laid out a plan for 5 keys to victory where in the prior two weeks I laidi out a 5 keys to succes. So which is this one to be? Victory or simply success?
This game does not set up as well for Miami as the New England game. The Dolphins don’t match-up well with the San Diego Chargers. In contrast, the Patriots had two players that were must stops, Moss and Welker. The TE and RB positions were secondary threats. Against SD, the Dolphins will not face the outside threat of a Randy Moss, but they will face a diversified offense that has the leagues best RB, LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the leagues top QB’s in Phillip Rivers, a top TE in Antonio Gates, and to make matters worse, they are all protected by one of the best offensive lines in the league. Still, the San Diego Chargers have struggled this year. It is that struggle that makes this game winnable and with that said, these are this weeks 5 Keys to “Victory”.
Key 5: Stop Chris Chambers. I know it sounds weird as Chambers has not done much this season ( you can read my CC returns article here). Chris as we all know can break out at any time, but in this game it’s his return to Miami and he will have a little more pep in his step so to speak. The Dolphins should be able t man coverage Chambers with Will Allen and at times dictated by situation, roll over a safety cover. Taking Chambers out of the game will reduce the options that Phillip Rivers has and makes the SD offense shorter.
Key 4: Close Antonio’s Gates. You might think that this key would be higher but it’s not. If the Dolphins can take Chambers out of the game, then they next need to focus on the same with Gates. Gates should be shadowed by both a safety and a LB. He needs to be hit hard at the point of contact with the ball. Gates will get his catches but the Phins can ill afford to allow him to play out of the TE spot like a slot receiver. Gates is an East to West and North receiver. He does not play tight to the line in his routes. The Dolphins will have to account for the 5 to 10 yards off the line that Gates will try and set up in. Stopping Gates will slow the offense down and create problems for Rivers.
Key 3: Phillip Rivers must be pressured. It is a common key theme this year, pressure the QB and you create confusion. Rivers is actually pretty good under pressure as he can usually escape long enough to allow his receivers to come back to him or float a pass out to the RB. He is big and he is strong and arm tackling will not bring him down. Matt Cassel was nothing compared to Rivers. The Dolphins must be able to read the screens that SD loves to run so much so their blitzing must be timed and covered for that very purpose.
Key 2: Stop the Backs. LaDainian Tomlinson is a monster and even though he is off pace this season, he is ready to break out at any time. Tomlinson is that perfect blend of RB and receiver. Low to the ground in his running he is a hard target to bring down. The key to stopping LT is stretching the sidelines. LT is an East to West runner who rarely runs inside of the tackles and if you close the outside tackle gap he moves efficiently outside. If the Phins can stretch that line to the sidelines and keep him from turning up field, they can contain him. Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling must play smart football. When LT is not in the game, Darren Sproles is the speed burner that brings everything into a different style. Quick out of the backfield, Sproles will not dance in the backfield. The Dolphins must be ready for both backs.
Key 1: Run Ronnie Run: The San Diego Chargers are ranked 13th against the run and while that is in the top half of the league, it’s not a good number for a team that is supposed to challenge for the Super Bowl. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams can wear down the Chargers weakened defense and by doing so the passing lanes will open up for Chad Pennington. It is likely that the Phins will try a couple new variations of the “Wild Cat” formation they ran against New England, but I suspect that they will not look quite the same as they did then. The Dolphins have done well offensively when they play simple. High-percentage passes that gain 5 to 6 yards and shorten the field with solid running that they do not abandon early.
The Dolphins must keep this game close and I suspect that they will. The Chargers have lost two close games, one at the hands of the Panthers on opening day on the last play, once to Denver on a badly blown call by the referee, and won handily over the Jets. The Raiders last week almost stole it before falling apart in the 4th quarter.
This game can either way. It can be a blowout that gets out of hand or it could be an opportunity for the Miami Dolphins to show why two weeks ago was not a fluke. My guess is that this game will be close, and I think that the Phins can win, if they can hit on all 5 keys.