INGLEWOOD, CA – With high expectations and as much hype as the team has had in recent memory, the Miami Dolphins looked to start off the season strong with a win against the playoff-caliber Los Angeles Chargers. With some key injuries on both sides of the ball and an early road trip in hand, the new-look Dolphins did not disappoint on offense as QB Tua Tagovailoa and WR Tyreek Hill had some of their best performances in the NFL as the Fins prevailed over the Chargers in a 36-34 thriller that came down to the wire.
In what was a back-and-forth battle with an almost doubly-digit amount of lead changes, both offenses clicked for different reasons. For Miami, their air-raid offense led by Tua (Who racked up 466 passing yards and three touchdowns) could not be stopped, as six different receivers racked up over 30 yards on the day.
For the Chargers, their running game led by veteran back Austin Ekeler carved Miami’s front seven on defense- something defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have to work on for the future.
Since being drafted in 2020, both Tua and Chargers QB Justin Herbert have now met in the NFL three times, and Tagovailoa has won twice in the matchup. The stats don’t lie. Tua outperformed Herbert today in almost all aspects and even set some history in the process.
Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa passed for 466 yards today, the fourth-most passing yards in a season-opening game in NFL history, trailing only Norm Van Brocklin, (554 yards in 1951), Tom Brady (517 yards in 2011) and Dan Marino (473 yards in 1994).
Tyreek Hill registered 215…
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 11, 2023
THE OFFENSIVE LINE PUT IN THE WORK
A lot of credit has to be given to the Dolphins offensive line. With the loss of veteran tackle Terron Armstead, the O-line had to figure out how to handle a scary Chargers defense with Pro Bowl talent such as Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa without their veteran leader.
Some of Tua’s worst games last year were when Armstead was not in, as he was pressured much more and had less time in the pocket to throw the ball away.
But as it would turn out, the offensive line looked as good as they ever have when it comes to blocking for the QB. The fact of the matter is Tua was not sacked once in the game. At times Tua was forced to scramble, but the very most he got touched was a facemask grab by Bosa, which was penalized.
Tua had time in the pocket, and it led to some of his best passes of the day, including a 35-yard dot to Hill late in the third quarter, or a 28-yard desperation heave to Hill on third down in their last drive.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 10, 2023
A bit of criticism here, but the center of the offensive line, Connor Williams, was a bit shaky. The first snap of the day for Miami was a bad handoff from Williams to Tua. On that same drive near the end zone, another botched snap led to a turnover and a lack of points for the Dolphins. This happened again near the end of the game, which thankfully didn’t result in a turnover, but was a massive mistake that hopefully gets corrected.
Aside from that, there’s not much else to say about the O-line except they exceeded expectations. When Armstead gets healthy and comes back to the lineup, it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic will change and how overpowered this unit can be.
LA DIDN’T DO THEMSELVES ANY FAVORS
Starting on defense, the Chargers had absolutely no answer for Miami’s offense. Whether it was Hill, Jaylen Waddle, or even Braxton Berrios, the Dolphins dominated the middle of the field all game long. Combine fast, accurate bullet passes from Tua with a Changers secondary that couldn’t keep up with the Fins’ speed, and 215 receiving yards from Hill doesn’t seem that crazy.
Speaking of Hill, he took advantage of the LA defense more than any other player on the field. The Chargers mainly ran man coverage play schemes and hoped that it would be good enough to guard Hill. The problem is, if you’re not double-teaming him at all times, then odds are he’s going to beat the defensive back every single snap.
TUA AND TYREEK ARE DIALED IN.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2023
In the rare instances that the Chargers defense did put extra pressure on Hill, it left Waddle or Berrios open for whatever Tua wanted to do. It’s no wonder that six receivers for the Dolphins averaged over 10 yards per catch.
An unsung hero for Miami was Chargers defensive back JC Jackson, who made a multitude of mental errors on the field. With two seconds left in the first half, Tua airmailed a pass into triple coverage that went incomplete, but Jackson pushed Eric Ezukanma into the ground for an unnecessary pass interference call. It set up a 41-yard field goal by Jason Sanders to give Miami the lead heading into halftime.
Along with that, JC Jackson intercepted a pass by Tua in the end zone late in the third quarter. Instead of kneeling in the end zone for a touchback, Jackson elected to run the ball out and be pushed out of bounds at the nine-yard line. Instead of starting at the 25, Herbert and the Chargers were pushed back to the goal line and forced to punt from the back of their end zone. It gave the Fins excellent field position which turned into the Tua to Tyreek touchdown that was shown earlier in this article.
As far as the Chargers offense goes, their run game was admittedly excellent but their passing game was exposed at the end. On their last possession, Fangio decided to send the house on almost every single play, and it resulted in a first down, an intentional grounding penalty, a sack, a 17-yard completion, and another sack to ice the game. 228 passing yards by Herbert is fine, but not enough to match what the Fins were doing.
A GOOD START WITHOUT KEY PLAYERS
As mentioned earlier, the loss of Armstead could have spelled doom for the offensive line, but they still put together a Hollywood show worthy of the big screen.
Miami’s running game definitely took a back seat in this game. Their leading rusher was Raheem Mostert, who did start off strong but couldn’t burst through the trenches as the game progressed. Granted, when you have an air-raid attack that clicks this well, it doesn’t hurt that badly, but I do think that the best offenses in the NFL are the ones that can find the healthy medium between passing and running.
Still, the Fins could have used the help of their speedster draft pick, De’Von Achane, who was unfortunately injured during the preseason. Who knows how the offense would have looked with him involved? After all, the name of the game when it comes to the Miami offense is speed.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 10, 2023
Of course, the Fins definitely are missing out on CB Jalen Ramsey, who suffered an injury during fall practice and isn’t expected to be back until November at the earliest. Their most hyped pickup of this offseason could have locked down the Chargers backfield, but they had to make do with what they had.
I think the Dolphins secondary was fine and didn’t give up too many big plays. However, things got worrisome in the second half when Xavien Howard was called for three defensive penalties giving the Chargers free yards and points along with them. This, along with the amount of rushing yards given up by the defensive line, need to be addressed and improved upon as soon as possible.
Overall, there were a lot of injuries for this team, which seems to be a common occurrence over the past few seasons. But, ultimately, they got the job done with what they had.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A SHOCKING GAME
The Miami Dolphins are 1-0 to begin the season and did so against a playoff-caliber Chargers team that blew them out the year prior. Last season, it was on the road as well at Sofi Stadium. Although, it did sound at times like there were more Fins fans than Bolts fans.
It’s a quality win that can give the team as much motivation as possible and is the start of a very difficult stretch of games to begin the season. It’s also Miami’s last game on the West Coast this season, which can be big depending on who you ask. Their games against the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders are at home, for example, so that means less time on a plane and more time getting ready for their opponent.
Of course, there were some bad things we all saw that can and need to be fixed, such as Miami’s run defense and lack of running game. However, their positives absolutely outweigh all of that, such as their A+ passing game and their clutch gene in the fourth quarter. I thought this was going to be the most entertaining game of the NFL slate this week, and I wasn’t wrong.
The Fins will have to head to Foxborough for their second game of the season against the New England Patriots on Sunday, September 17th at 8pm on Sunday Night Football.
📸Credit: Miami Dolphins