Who: Dolphins (5-3) vs. Chargers (2-6)
When: Sunday, November 15, 4:05 EDT
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 83 degrees, mostly sunny, 75 percent humidity, 12 MPH winds
After a heart-pounding game that quite possibly took a couple of years off the life of Dolphins fans everywhere, Brian Flores' team welcomes in another tough test on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and the high-powered Los Angeles Chargers come to town.
The Chargers, like Miami, spent a top 10 pick on a quarterback in this draft. The L.A. offense is putting up yards and points to create tight games down the stretch, but victory finds a way to elude them at the game's climax. The Chargers compete regardless the level of opponent but have been just 3-14 in one-score games over the last two seasons.
For Flores and the Dolphins, playing for 60 minutes and finishing will once again be the message of the week. Miami has won four straight with the latest win coming down to the wire in Arizona. Cornerback Byron Jones said earlier this week that the winning streak is great but there's still a lot of season left.
"We've still got eight more games against a bunch of really good opponents," Jones said. "So the challenge for us is yes, we've won a couple of games in a row – it feels nice – but how we got here was through hard work and we've got to continue to do that."
The 2020 season lined up Miami's schedule to see both the AFC and NFC West, which means a lot of travel for the Dolphins and their west coast opponents coming east. The Chargers are 1-2 this season playing in the Eastern time zone and 3-3 over the last two seasons combined.
Wednesday Injury Report
Dolphins: The Dolphins placed wide receiver Preston Williams (foot) on injured reserve.
Running back Matt Breida (hamstring), cornerback Jamal Perry (foot) and tight end Durham Smythe (concussion) were limited participants in Wednesday's practice.
Chargers: Running back Justin Jackson (knee) did not practice on Wednesday.
Defensive end Joey Bosa (concussion), guard Trai Turner (groin) and tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) were all limited participants at Wednesday's practice.
For the rest of the Dolphins-Chargers Week 10 injury report, click here.
Shore up the Edge
Nobody in the NFL blitzes less than the Chargers under Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley came up in the Pete Carroll system with a heavy emphasis on zone looks, primarily Cover 3 (three deep defenders takings a third of the field each). However, Bradley has shown his flexibility in the past with unique plans to adapt for his opponent (see 2018 AFC Wild Card round vs. Baltimore).
The one constant for Bradley – getting pressure with a four-man rush. Making matters easier for his rush scheme, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The two edge rushers wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines with a physical brand of football paired with a crafty rush arsenal. Bosa is one of five edge defenders with more quarterback pressures (37) than Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (34). Ingram has 23 pressures despite missing three games this season.
The Dolphins played six offensive linemen at least 15 snaps Sunday in Arizona with Jesse Davis, Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt all getting work at tackle. Perhaps one of the best way to help shore up the edge is through Miami's stout interior. Guard Ereck Flowers and center Ted Karras have played a combined 604 pass-blocking snaps this season with just 15 quarterback pressures allowed.
Limiting the Chargers' Offensive Lightning
Despite playing one game fewer than all of his competition in this category, Justin Herbert is sixth in the NFL with 597 passing yards on throws 20 or more yards downfield. His nine touchdowns on such throws ranks second behind only Russell Wilson of Seattle. Coming into the game against the Cardinals, the previous three Dolphins' opponents were 0-for-14 on passes beyond 20 yards, but wide receiver Christian Kirk got open downfield for a couple of big plays.
The Chargers' deep threats come in droves and in varying forms. Mike Williams has that DeVante Parker gene that allows him to rebound 50/50 balls with the best of them – he's 13th in the NFL with 213 receiving yards on deep throws.
Right behind Williams is Jalen Guyton, who has 205 receiving yards on balls thrown 20-plus yards. More than half of Guyton's receiving production (52.9 percent) has come from deep passes. He's the only player in the top 45 of deep-ball receivers with better than 50 percent of his yards on the downfield shots.
Forcing the Chargers to drive the field and execute in the red zone could be a winning recipe. Los Angeles ranks 23rd in red zone conversion rate at 57.1 percent.
"We're a defense that bends; we don't break," Byron Jones said. "Usually we don't like to have a team sport – 30-something points in a game – but it's good that we found a way to win in that circumstance."
Heat Up Herbert
The best way to limit a vertical passing game is to make the quarterback uncomfortable with constant pressure. Herbert comes equipped with a howitzer attached to his right shoulder and enough athletic ability to make plays outside the pocket, so that's easier said than done.
The Chargers offensive line has allowed 111 pressures this season while the Dolphins have 151 pressures from 16 different players on defense. When kept clean, Herbert is completing 71.0 percent of his passes for 8.1 yards per throw, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Under pressure, though still very productive, there's a slight drop off. Herbert is completing 59.0 percent of his passes under pressure for 7.7 yards per pass, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, per PFF.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has been a steadying force for the Chargers. He's allowed only four quarterback pressures this season, far-and-away the fewest among the L.A. offensive line. If Ogbah draws Bulaga and extra attention, it'll become imperative for Shaq Lawson and company to get after the quarterback.
More Chargers Personnel
Keenan Allen provides Herbert with the dependable short-to-intermediate option when the vertical game isn't there. One of the top route-runners in the NFL, Allen is second in receptions (62) and 11th in receiving yards (651).
Tuesday, Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer discussed the challenges the Chargers offense presents.
"They've used numerous different backs due to injury," Boyer said. "All of them have been successful. They've got a loaded skill receiver group. They've got good tight ends and they're really running at an efficient pace. It's going to be a big challenge for us this week."
The Chargers edge rush provides plenty of obstacles, but defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is second on the team with 24 quarterback pressures. Uchenna Nwosu brings even more pass rush depth as he has 21 pressures on the season from his outside linebacker position. Linval Joseph completes the powdered blue wall – he has 16 quarterback pressures and 14 run stops.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman is the highest-graded Chargers defender, according to PFF. He's a big-hitting, aggressive off-ball linebacker who contributes both in the running and passing game.
The top two corners for Los Angeles have both been on the field for more than 92 percent of the defense's snaps. In the absence of injured Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis and Casey Hayward have combined to allow 50 receptions on 87 targets (57.5 percent), 685 yards (7.87 yards per target), five touchdowns and one interception, per PFF.
The Chargers' scoring offense ranks 17th in the NFL with 25.6 points per game and is second in total offense with 420.0 yards per game. The rushing offense is eighth with 135.6 yards per game and fifth in passing, averaging 284.4 yards through the air.
The most-frequent ran offense in the NFL is 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Only four teams run 11-personnel more than the Chargers, who have called that package on 70.0 percent of the snaps. The next most frequently called package is 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), they've run 84 plays from that look and also utilize two running backs more than the NFL mean with 64 snaps from that grouping.
The Chargers defense utilizes nickel with nearly the same frequency of the offense's 11-personnel attack; they call five defensive backs on 70.8 percent of the snaps. Half of the league calls dime defense less than 10 percent of the time. The Chargers are right at the median with 9.1 percent of their snaps calling on six defensive backs.
Nobody blitzes at a lower rate than the Chargers; they bring an extra rusher on just 11.9 percent of their snaps, per Pro Football Reference. They showcase the strength of their front four with a 22.9 percent pressure rate, 11th-best in the NFL.
The Chargers defense is allowing 27.0 points per game, 21st in the NFL. Los Angeles is 14th in total defense with 358.5 yards surrendered per game. The rushing defense ranks 16th in both rushing and passing defense with 118.3 yards per game against on the ground and 240.3 through the air.
The Dolphins lead the all-time series with the Chargers 18-16 (includes a 2-2 mark in the post-season).
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins needs 34 tackles to reach 118 in his career. That would be the most tackles in the first two seasons of an NFL defensive tackle's career since at least 2010.
Linebacker Jerome Baker needs four tackles to become the first Dolphins player since at least 2000 to total at least 267 tackles in the first three seasons of his career.
The next start for guard/tackle Jesse Davis will be the 50th of his career.
It's another late afternoon kickoff, so we'll bring you postgame coverage Sunday night. As always, we'll have the recap story and Sunday spotlight on MiamiDolphins.com and Drive Time with Travis Wingfield to cover the game in podcast form.