Chargers at Miami Dolphins: Who has the edge?
CHARGERS (2-6) at MIAMI DOLPHINS (5-3)
When: 1:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV/Radio: CBS (Ch. 2); 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish); Sirius 108
Line: Dolphins by 1 ½ points
Notable injury designations: Chargers: DE Joey Bosa (out; concussion), RB Justin Jackson (out; knee), RG Trai Turner (questionable; groin), RT Bryan Bulaga (questionable; back), RB Troymaine Pope (questionable; neck).
Dolphins: LB Kyle Van Noy and DT Christian Wilkins (out; reserved/COVID list), RB Matt Breida (questionable; hamstring), CB Jamal Perry (questionable; foot), TE Durham Smythe (questionable; concussion).
What’s at stake? A chance for a fresh start. There’s nothing the Chargers can do about the first half of the season, but they can close the season on a high note by stacking wins during the final eight games. Regardless if they make the postseason or not, the Chargers have an opportunity to prove they can close games with Coach Anthony Lynn and his staff. The Chargers have four consecutive games against the AFC East. A great start to the second half of the season would be to sweep the AFC East, but after a brutal first eight games, the Chargers are surely taking a one-game-at-a-time approach. Also at stake, are bragging rights for the first Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa matchup.
Who’s better? The Dolphins and their stout defense. Brian Flores’ defense entered Week 10 ranked fourth in points allowed per game (20.1), third-down percentage (34.37%) and takeaways (14). Miami is 2-0 since Tagovailoa replaced veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, although the defense deserves most of the credit for the first win against the Rams. But the rookie lifted his team during a thrilling road win against the Arizona Cardinals last week. The Chargers’ defense will likely struggle with keeping Tagovailoa in the pocket. They’ve allowed an average of 31.8 points in the past five games. The Chargers can’t afford to allow that many points because of the Dolphins’ stingy defense, but Herbert hasn’t had issues generating points in his first seven starts.
Matchup to watch: The Chargers’ wide receivers versus the Dolphins’ secondary. Lynn mentioned this week that the Dolphins tend to blitz at a high rate, as he counted one game when they had at least 20 zero blitz calls. The Dolphins are able to be aggressive because they invested in top cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. That duo is likely to be matched against Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, so it might be up to Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson to stretch the field for the Chargers. The Dolphins, however, are likely aware of Herbert’s downfield success and could decide to reduce their blitz plays.
Chargers win if: If they create turnovers. The Dolphins are ranked near the bottom in yards allowed per game, but that hasn’t hurt them much because they’ve recorded 14 takeaways. The Chargers have only seven takeaways this season. They’ve failed to close out games because they haven’t had game-changing takeaways in the fourth quarter. The Chargers need to frustrate Tagovailoa the same way they did Cincinnati rookie Joe Burrow for long stretches during the season opener.
Fantasy sleeper: This will be running back Joshua Kelley’s return-to-form game. He’s due for a big game, especially with the success the Chargers have had running the ball the past four games. After surprise performances from Kalen Ballage and Troymaine Pope, the rookie from UCLA is likely next in line. He’s still seeing many snaps, and that will likely increase with Justin Jackson nursing a knee injury. But this will be a risky play because Kelley hasn’t surpassed 32 rushing yards in a game since Week 3.
Prediction: Speaking of risky, the Chargers will get an upset win in Miami. Herbert will have success versus the Dolphins’ stout defense, especially if Turner and Bulaga are active on game day and with Miami missing Van Noy and Wilkins. It will be another one-score game, but this time, the Chargers close it out for a 24-20 victory to start the second half of the season on a high note.