The 4-5 San Diego Chargers hosted the 4-4 Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Sunday and then re-watching it in its entirety Tuesday morning. If you are not interested in reliving the game then please scroll through to just the individual film studies and to the closing thoughts section. This is my usual weekly post for DolphinsTalk.com, for more me including videos & screenshots go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball
The Narrative heading into the game
I was overly hyped/ excited for this game and went ahead and wrote a preview article. You can read that article here… The key match ups I identified were: Jay Ajayi vs. San Diego’s Front Seven; DeVante Parker vs. Steve Williams; Miami’s Front Seven vs. Melvin Gordon; Jermon Bushrod or Ja’Wuan James vs. Joey Bosa.
The Dolphins are 0-4 in games on the West Coast as they have lost four straight since 2010. San Diego are a very good football team whose season has been repeatedly threatened by injuries but have managed to salvage a just under .500 record. San Diego has an excellent Quarterback, hot young emerging RB and a good run Defense alongside a playmaking secondary and an emerging pass rush. If the Miami Dolphins want to be ‘relevant’ again then this is the kind of tough road game they will need to start winning.
Miami Dolphins @ San Diego Chargers, Week 10
The Miami Dolphins made 1 change from the team that beat the Jets 7 days ago. Dion Sims started at TE for the Dolphins while Donald Butler and Jelani Jenkins switched spots at Outside Linebacker. The first quarter witnessed 4 punts as both the Dolphins and Chargers looked to establish the run early. Both teams were aware of this and the Chargers were unable to pick up anything significant on the ground early, while Jay Ajayi had 16 yards off his first three runs.
The Dolphins Defense got off to a fast start and held Melvin Gordon to only 8 yards off his first four runs while Philip Rivers went 1 of 5 on his first five passing attempts. The Dolphins should have had a Field Goal on their first offensive possession, yet a costly Melvin Ingram sack lost Miami eight yards and forced the Dolphins to punt (LT Branden Albert was beat round the edge). San Diego eventually got 3 points early into the second quarter after a failed 3rd & 12 was flagged for Pass Interference as Bobby McCain (who struggled all game) tangled with his receiver and also pulled his facemask enforcing a further 15 yards. Despite conceding a Field Goal, Miami held Melvin Gordon to just 10 yards off his first 6 runs before surrendering 19 yards on a 1st & 10 (Gordon’s longest run of the game). Linebackers Kiko Alonso (who had an exceptional game) and Neville Hewitt were both dialled in on the run and were regularly making plays in the backfield and around the line of scrimmage.
The Dolphins punted for a third straight time as they started with awful Field Position as Jakeem Grant elected to return the ball from 6 yards deep and only managed to get to the 15. San Diego went 10-0 up as Philip Rivers shredded the Dolphins secondary. On this drive Rivers completed passes for 12, 15, 12, 16 and 19 yards before an 11 yard touchdown pass. This same drive the Dolphins Front Seven forced Gordon into two runs for -5 yards. You can see the confidence this Miami team is playing with as Jakeem Grant again elected to return a kick off which was five yards deep and despite only getting to the 25, was only 1 missed tackle away from taking the ball to the house for a Dolphins Touchdown.
Ryan Tannehill connected with DeVante Parker for a 14 yard gain on 2nd down as Tannehill went through his progressions. Speaking of DeVante Parker; two of Miami’s first three throws went to Parker on quick short passes as they looked to get Parker going early. The Dolphins also ran with Ajayi on three of their first four offensive possessions to establish the run. Tannehill went back to Parker on the very next play for a 9 yard gain down the sideline. The Dolphins capped this drive with a 39 yard play action pass to Kenny Stills for a touchdown off a deep ball. It was 1st & 10 Miami on San Diego’s 39-yard line and the Dolphins had previously run the ball on 7 of their 11 first downs (63.63%).
The play is draw up with two receiver bunched near the line where a TE is lined up as an additional blocker. This looks like a run formation and so to counter this San Diego loads the box and all 11 defenders are no further than 6 yards away from the line of scrimmage. A clear sign of respect for the threat of Jay Ajayi.
The Dolphins have actually dialled up a play action pass with the shot at a deep ball to Kenny Stills if the safeties do not react in time. The TE will remain at the line as additional blocker giving Tannehill more time to find his receivers down field. The Linebackers bite on the run and as Tannehill sets his feet to throw he has a clean pocket and both his receivers breaking to the outside are open as is Stills on the deep ball. Stills is a speedster and Tannehill knows if he can throw the ball over the top of Stills he should arrive 2-3 steps ahead of the safety. Tannehill throws the deep ball and connects with Kenny Stills on a 39-yard touchdown pass. Establishing the run early created separation for the receivers down field as the Chargers were forced to defend the run and threat of Jay Ajayi.
Bobby McCain was left trailing the slow veteran TE Antonio Gates in coverage and gave up a 19 yard pass. The Chargers drive then stalled out as Cam Wake sacked Rivers on 3rd & 7 as he got his hand on Rivers’ jersey after just 2.35 seconds! Cam Wake as I regularly write can covert speed into power and is a savvy veteran who can use hand movement and leverage to compliment his sprinter speed as he explodes out of his stance. Adam Gase for a second week in a row left timeouts on the board and headed into Half Time early.
HT: 10-7 San Diego
Miami did a great job bottling up Melvin Gordon in the first half holding Gordon to just 30 yards off 12 runs (3 runs went for negative yards). Yet he picked up 19 of these on 1 run and apart from that long run averaged 1 yard per attempt. To start the third quarter Jakeem Grant fumbled for the second time today. Branden Albert was forced out of the line-up for the opening of the third quarter and we later learned that he dislocated his wrist (Albert would return later in the game after popping it back in on the sideline). With Laremy Tunsil at LT (a glimpse into the future) and Kraig Urbik at LG, Jay Ajayi broke loose for a 40 yard run to the left side. Tannehill then hooked up with Jarvis Landry down the sideline for 25 yards putting Miami within touching distance of San Diego’s end zone. Head Coach Adam Gase then dialled up a play that was successful against the Steelers in Week 6, however, ran it out of a different formation. With Ajayi at HB and Damien Williams at FB, Tannehill handed the ball off to Williams who went in from two yards out for a Dolphins TD. 14-10 Miami.
Kiko Alonso had a great game as he was dialled in on both run D and in coverage. Cam Wake got his second sack of the day as he bull-rushed the Chargers RT back into Rivers, getting home in just 3.21 seconds. Cam Wake can literally pick his poison as he is a threat either round the edge with a speed move or lining up a Tackle and bull rushing them.
San Diego eventually scored a touchdown on this drive as Bobby McCain was flagged for PI in the End Zone before Byron Maxwell lost sight of TE Hunter Henry in the end zone. Miami had stopped Gordon for no gain on 1st down and DT Earl Mitchell (who was excellent in limited snaps) drove the Chargers Centre back like a doll resulting in Gordon losing six yards. The Dolphins responded with a touchdown of their own on a drive that saw a 21 yard Ajayi run to the left and Ryan Tannehill pick up 18 yards scrambling on a 3rd & 11. The Touchdown came from a pretty hook up between Damien Williams (a secret weapon in Miami) and Tannehill as the QB exploited a mismatch as the RB drew a 1-on-1 match up with a Linebacker on the outside. Cam Wake should have had his third sack of the game on the following Chargers possession, however, San Diego gained a first down as McCain (yes again) was flagged for holding. The Chargers punted and Jakeem Grant for the THIRD TIME fumbled the football and awarded San Diego excellent field position on Miami’s 5 yard line. Grant should not have attempted to field the ball as he was retreating towards the sideline and not playing the ball in front of him.
This is a different Miami Dolphins team to the one we are used to. Miami stopped San Diego on 1st and 2nd down before Byron Maxwell was flagged for holding on 3rd down. The ‘normal Dolphins’ would have conceded a TD and shot themselves in the foot through a combination of turnovers and penalties. However, Tony Lippett picked the ball off in the end zone leaving Miami ahead 21-17. Miami went 3 and out and punted the football. Lippett went from hero to villain as he gave away a 1st down on a holding call before Andre Branch (who is having a good year) combined with Ndamukong Suh (playing at his normal elite level) for a sack. Miami recorded back-to-back interceptions early in the fourth quarter as Byron Maxwell passed off his receiver to the deep safety and broke on the pass intended for Antonio Gates to snag the ball before it reached the TE. Yet again Miami could not move the ball and was forced to punt. The Dolphins looked to have got San Diego off the field before Tony Lippett yet again was called for holding on a 3rd & 8 and allowed the Chargers to extend their drive. Rivers connected with his deep threat Tyrell Williams for a 51 yard touchdown pass which put San Diego up 24-21 with only 4:04 left in the game.
The Dolphins showed courage as Tannehill on his first throw connected with DeVante Parker for a huge 56 yard gain which had 10 yards added on for roughing the passer (Tannehill was samurai chopped in the neck). The Dolphins settled for a Field Goal making it 24-24 with just 2:57 left. This is a different Miami Dolphins and the next play proves it. This sort of play would never have happened under previous regimes as a conservative play call such as a simple 3 or 4 man rush with zone coverage would have been called over a gutsy play call by DC Vance Joseph. The Dolphins put 8 men on the line of scrimmage with two Linebackers showing A Gap Blitz. The Dolphins are actually sending only 6 (still brave) with a spy and Kiko Alonso dropping into coverage. Read through the photos below for the rest…
A combination of excellent play calling and recognition + athleticism by Alonso puts Miami up 31-24 before Tony Lippett records his second INT of the game and Miami’s fourth in the fourth quarter sealing a 31-24 road win over the Chargers.
The Miami Dolphins yet again overcame adversity as the game threatened to run away from them due to penalties and special teams fumbles (hopefully not a developing trend). This years Miami Dolphins seem different to teams in the past. It is a team with mercenary Defensive Linemen who appear to have bought into the current regime and has a balance of talented youth and veteran linemen anchoring its Offensive Line. The Dolphins also have young emerging playmakers on Offense who Miami will hope can continue to develop and be productive.
The most important lesson a team, particular a young one, needs to learn is simply ‘how to win.’ The Dolphins have experienced success and found a formula to overcome adversity and remain calm while behind in the fourth quarter. The next three games for Miami are all winnable, @ Rams, vs. 49ers, @ Ravens, and if Miami want to be a factor in the play off race they need to find a way to keep this momentum up and extend this winning streak (much like Kansas City did last season).
The Dolphins showed against the Chargers that yes they have an identity and its one that helped them beat Pittsburgh, Buffalo and New York. However, most importantly Miami showed that this is not a one dimensional team and that they can find a way to win even when plan A is not working. The Dolphins secondary played awful… yet well… as only Miami can do. This team and young coaching staff continues to take strides in the right direction! The Dolphins have now won four in a row for the first time since 2008.
On to L.A. – Fins Up!