Dolphins Offense Struggles, Chargers Capitalize in Primetime

Dolphins Chargers

With the cards stacked in Miami’s favor on a Sunday Night AFC matchup, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins offense couldn’t capitalize on a weakened Los Angeles secondary, falling to the Chargers by a score of 23-17.

A Troubling West Coast Swing

Miami had all the momentum in the world when they ventured out to the Golden State last week. After five straight wins in which Tua threw no interceptions and the Dolphins averaged 30 points a game, they had a marquee matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

Miami was flat almost all game. After their first drive resulted in a touchdown, the Dolphins offense couldn’t find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. San Francisco’s defense was dominant and forced multiple three-and-outs for Miami, which set up drives for their offense around midfield.

Despite 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo exiting the game early due to injury, backup QB Brock Purdy, a seventh-round rookie out of Iowa State, threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns that propelled San Francisco to a 33-17 win.

Despite that setback, the Dolphins still controlled their own destiny with an 8-4 record entering this game vs the Los Angeles Chargers at Sofi Stadium.

On the other side of the field, the Chargers crawled into the game with a 6-6 record off the heels of an upset win by the Las Vegas Raiders. Quarterback Justin Herbert has had a solid season statistically, but injuries and a lack of weapons available have kept Los Angeles in the Playoff hunt all season long.

On the topic of injuries, three starters for the Chargers defense were out due to injury against Miami, including safety Derwin James, cornerback Bryce Callahan, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day.

No Sparks of Electricity on Offense

Miami’s first offensive drive was dry, and an immediate three and out. The Chargers, on the other hand, converted multiple third downs and drove all the down to the two-yard line. However, the Dolphins defense held strong and forced a fourth down attempt that LA couldn’t convert, keeping the game scoreless.

Back on offense, Tua converted a first down off a pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, which was both the first completion and first down of the game for Miami. The drive stalled after that and the Chargers depleted defense forced another punt.

Herbert once again took advantage of man coverage on third down and converted first down to set them up on Miami’s side of the field. However, defensive end Christian Wilkins bypassed the offensive line and sacked Herbert for the first time all game as the first quarter came to a close.

After a check down on third and long, Chargers kicker Cameron Dicker sank a 33-yard field goal for the first points of the night in favor of the home team. (Despite the hundreds of Dolphins fans in attendance)

A Shocking Move by Tyreek Hill

Once more, the Dolphins were stopped on third down, this time by a sack on Tua by outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a former member of the Dolphins.

With the defense having to spend the majority of time on the field, they got tired real fast. Herbert took advantage with a fast-paced, deep pass drive that ended with a dart to wide receiver Mike Williams, extending the Chargers lead to 10-0.

The most bizarre moment of the night occurred on Miami’s next drive. On a handoff to running back Jeff Wilson Jr on second down, the former 49er ran for six yards before fumbling the ball, causing a massive pileup.

Someone in the pile slapped the ball out of the pile after a few seconds, and Hill was the first to notice. He picked up the ball, ran to the other side of the field, and used his trademark speed to score the first touchdown for Miami, halfway through the second quarter.

Miami looked like they finally had some momentum. Their defense forced a rare three-and-out, complete with a sack on Herbert by safety Eric Rowe.

In addition, the Dolphins offense came to life with back-to-back first downs. However, the Chargers defense held on to create a third and 15 play in which Tua threw up a long ball out of bounds, and another punt by Thomas Morstead was needed.

Herbert was unphased and commanded another lengthy drive that took up the rest of the clock in the second quarter. While Miami forced a third and goal from the 17-yard line, their defense went for zone coverage, pinning seven players around the end zone. The Chargers took advantage with a checkdown that brought the ball all the way to the goal line.

On a fourth and goal with time expiring, a handoff to running back Austin Ekeler was all it took to score another touchdown for the Chargers and extend their lead to 17-7 into halftime.

Lightning Strikes Twice for Miami

Coming out of the break, the Dolphins defense forced another three and out, which set up Tua close to midfield. After an initial run by running back Raheem Mostert, Miami had the ball on a third and five.

Despite having no success up to this point with the long ball, Tua threw one up to the right side of the field and Hill was able to grab it and run the distance for another Dolphins touchdown, keeping the game close at a score of 17-14.

Herbert would not be outdone on his next drive and threw a deep bomb to Williams to set up the Chargers over the 50-yard line. While LA was unable to get a big play in the end zone, Dicker was able to kick a 31-yard field goal to give the Chargers a bit more breathing room.

LA’s Defense Bolts up Miami

After the field goal, three straight possessions ending in punts ensued heading into the fourth quarter. This especially hurt the Dolphins, who converted a few first downs off of some runs by Tua and a midfield pass to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Despite the effort, no points were scored and valuable time was taken off the clock.

What sealed the game for the Chargers was a 12-minute drive that was guided by a couple of deep shots by Herbert and some runs by Ekeler and company. It set up another field goal that was made by Dicker, extending the lead to 23-14, a nine-point difference, with two minutes to go.

A quick offensive series by Miami yielded a field goal to drop the lead to 23-17, but a failed onside kick attempt ended the game.

A Statistical Breakdown & What’s Next

The QB battle was won by Justin Herbert, and it wasn’t close. With 39 completions and 367 passing yards compared to only 10 completions and 145 yards by Tua Tagovailoa, the Chargers spent the majority of the game on the field, and usually began each drive close to midfield, more than double the time of Miami.

LA also secured more first downs, more total offensive plays, more yards per play, and more red zone drives. (The Dolphins did not get into the red zone once this game.) Both teams somewhat struggled to run the ball, and Miami and Los Angeles both committed six penalties each as well as no turnovers.

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle both combined for 112 receiving yards, which was less than the 116 yards recorded by Mike Williams on the Chargers. Surprisingly, tight end Mike Gesicki was only targeted twice and didn’t catch either pass.

Miami’s defense sacked Herbert four times and committed 74 total tackles. But again, Herbert didn’t throw any picks.

Some history was made by Hill. He passed former Dolphins wide receiver Mark Clayton for the most receiving yards in a single season with 1,460 so far. He’s still on pace for 2000 yards in a single season. In addition, he’s now the only player in the Super Bowl era to score a rushing, receiving, kick return, punt return, and fumble recovery touchdown in a single season.

The loss drops Miami’s record to 8-4. They’re currently in second place in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills. In the playoff standings, they’re still the sixth seed in the wild card, being in front of the Chargers and behind the Cincinnati Bengals.

Miami has a short turnaround as they’ll continue the road trip in Western New York when they take on the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, December 17th at 8:15 PM. They’ll then head back home for a matchup against the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day at 1 PM.

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