The month of November is critical for the Miami Dolphins in 2014. The Chargers, Lions, Bills and Broncos present a daunting list of opponents in succession. While the Dolphins have beaten teams with combined 10-21 record, they have lost to teams with a collective 14-9 record.
A brutal November schedule featuring teams a cumulative 22-9, will define the 2014 Dolphins. Teetering on the edge of .500 means, coming out of these games with their season intact will be the difference between playing in January or watching at home. Winning 2 of the next 4 games is imperative.
The danger for Miami is looking ahead and worrying about the broader picture instead of focusing on the job at hand, beating San Diego.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers has played the best opening stretch of his career, with a 109 QB rating, 20 TDs and just 5 INTs. After winning 5 in a row averaging 30+ points, SD and Rivers have slumped in two consecutive losses averaging barely 21. The Chargers will be looking to turn the trend around in Miami and the Dolphin defense must be prepared to harass the Pro Bowl QB.
Rivers was sacked only 4 times in losses while being taken down 9 times in winning efforts. He’s thrown 4 INTs in losses but only 1 in wins. 6 TD passes in losses and 14 in wins. Interestingly enough, the trend points to coverage as the key rather than blitzing.
SD could be little more than smoke and mirrors blustered by beating Jacksonville, NYJ and Oakland in succession prior to losing to KC and Denver.
The only defining win for the Chargers came in week two against a Seahawks team that does not seem quite as formidable as it did winning last year’s Super Bowl. Beneath the surface, the Chargers bark is nastier than its bite. In fact, these two teams are moving in opposite directions. It is up to the Dolphins to maintain a winning streak and keep San Diego from regaining momentum.
The Charger offense depends on quick passing to negate pass rushing defensive linemen. 173 of River’s attempts have come from a 3 wide set with a lone back, while only 94 come from other formations. A vast percentage of his attempts, (111) are passes thrown between 1 and 10 yards. The most telling statistic, all of Philip River’s passing attempts have come without motion by the offense.
It’s the Mike Sherman offense without forcing a vertical threat, a scheme the Dolphin defense practiced against for two seasons. If the Miami defense is capable of exerting pressure without blitzing while disguising multiple coverage schemes, Rivers will make mistakes. Dion Jordan may get his first real opportunity as he is tasked to cover perennial All Pro TE Antonio Gates.
While it’s doubtful the Miami defense will completely shut down a high-powered SD offense, scoring may not come easy for the Chargers.
The key to the game will be the fickle Miami offense.
Footballoutsiders.com ranks San Diego 27th in defense, but that does not necessarily mean Miami will have an advantage. The Dolphins maddening inconsistency, particularly in the opening half will set the stage for a big win, or a miserable loss. The team definitely flows with the ebb of QB Ryan Tannehill against good opponents. San Diego will score and Miami must keep pace.
When Tannehill rates over 90, the Dolphins are 14-1. The stat shows how advantageous a good game from the QB can be, especially in Miami. However, Tannehill has only been rated 90 or better twice in 2014 and the Dolphins have 4 victories. While the stat is compelling, Miami can win if Tannehill is off his game.
Tannehill seems to have progressed, but the stat Bill Lazor feels most important, yards per attempt (6.6) is slightly lower for Tannehill in 2014. Stats don’t seem to carry much weight for the Miami QB, whether he gets off to a good start makes all the difference.
Tannehill responds to contact.
If the pocket collapses and the Miami QB is sacked early, it usually leads to a slow start. Conversely, if the Miami QB is hit in the process of making a positive play, it usually results in a fast start. Unlike most QBs, Tannehill needs to play a physical game to get his adrenaline up, for good or bad.
Bill Lazor uses the read option to get Tannehill into the flow of the game, but like the Wildcat before it, defenses will quickly catch on. Lazor will need to be creative getting his QB outside the San Diego defense running the football early to start his motor running. Most Likely San Diego has some wrinkles designed for the read option.
This is a very winnable game for the Miami Dolphins. San Diego is certain to be stinging from two consecutive losses, after an easy early schedule. The Miami defense must take away the quick passing attack and force Rivers to select his second and third options. The Miami offense must come out of the gate ready to play, if that means Tannehill running like a fullback up the middle on the first two offensive plays, get him hit early.
Without taking San Diego lightly, Miami has the opportunity to start a grueling November with a win in a month where 2 & 2 could lead to a playoff berth.