3TFO: Chargers @ Dolphins, Week 11
Two of the NFL’s southernmost teams face off this Sunday, though neither team has a very sunny outlook on the season, as they both sit at 4-5. San Diego recently got a taste of the fierce competition in their division, losing to the Broncos last week to fall back below .500. With a rematch against Denver coming in less than a month, and two contests against the undefeated Chiefs, the Chargers’ playoff hopes are starting to vanish. Even so, San Diego has received notable contributions from several rookies this year, so even if their 2013 campaign ends at Week 17, there’s still reason for optimism.
The Miami Dolphins also sit in limbo, unsure of what their fate will be come January. Chief among their concerns must be the Martin-Incognito debacle that has taken out 40% of the offensive line. The damage this has caused reared its ugly head last week, as Miami gave the Buccaneers their first win of the season, while picking up a whole 2 rushing yards in the process. With four divisional games left on the schedule, including two against the Jets, Miami still has a decent shot at the playoffs if they can regain the form they had during their 3-0 run to start the season. Let’s look at some important points in a game that will likely knock one of these two teams out of the playoff race.
Keenan Allen vs. Brent Grimes
To say that Keenan Allen has made good on the investment the Chargers made in him this April would be an understatement. Drafted in the third round out of Cal, Allen is the team’s second leading receiver with 568 yards, despite not playing in Week 1. Allen saw just four targets through Week 3, but since then he’s been targeted at least four times in every game, including a 12-target game against the Colts. His 1.98 Yards per Route Run is tops among rookies, and with just two drops on 38 catches, Allen has shown no indication of a penchant to drop balls, something that often plagues rookie receivers.
Speaking of paying-off on investments, the Dolphins’ Brent Grimes has done just that since being signed as a free agent this past offseason. On the year, he’s allowed a quarterback rating of just 66.2 despite sometimes tracking a team’s best receiver. Last week was no different, as his outing against the Bucs marked the fifth time this year he’s allowed less than 25 yards into his coverage. He’s still yet to allow a touchdown, and even when the opposing quarterback goes after him, Grimes has made them pay — he has a pick in both games this year in which he was thrown at 10 or more times.
Can Miami Find Balance on Offense?
The most astounding stat line from the Dolphins’ loss on Monday Night Football last week was their team total of 2 rushing yards. It’s hard to fault the backs for this, as they tallied 18 yards after contact on their 13 combined carries, yet gained no yardage, indicating just how often they were met by defenders in the backfield. It’s no surprise when you see that only two of their linemen have positive grades in run blocking, one being suspended and the other being center Mike Pouncey (+2.1).
They’ll have to establish the run against the league’s 20th-rated run defense, which might actually be worse if not for their 28th-rated pass defense. Their trio of linemen in the middle has played 458 snaps in run defense this year, but they have only 25 stops to show for it, and a combined run defense grade of -13.5. Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are second- and third-last at their position in run stop percentage, while Cam Thomas finds his way into the bottom 10 at the defensive tackle position. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that Jarret Johnson has been a monster in run defense. His 19 total stops lead the team despite missing two weeks with a hamstring injury, and his 13 stops in run defense give him a Run Stop Percentage of 10.3, third among outside linebackers.
Can Miami Stretch the Field?
With the signing of Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh, the Dolphins were clearly looking to add a deep threat receiver to their roster. And while there’s no doubt that Wallace is one of the fastest receivers in the game, Ryan Tannehill’s inability to get Wallace the ball (combined with Wallace’s nine drops) has hindered this quarterback to receiver combo. Tannehill’s numbers on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air are disappointing, completing just 9 of 31 (with three dropped passes) along with five interceptions and just two touchdowns.
More often than not, the Chargers have Marcus Gilchrist lined up deep to stop the long ball. It has been met with great results too, as Gilchrist has allowed just seven receptions for 80 yards on the year, while also picking off a pass. That comes down to an average of one reception every 48 snaps in coverage, seventh-best among safeties. His partner at the safety spot, the usually excellent Eric Weddle, hasn’t been as strong in coverage this year. Weddle has surrendered 28 receptions this season, giving up a reception every 11.6 snaps, fifth-worst among safeties, and the 182 YAC he’s allowed is second-worst. If there’s one positive note for Weddle, it’s that the receptions he does give up average just 10.7 yards. How this duo performs will make a big difference in trying to stymie the Dolphins’ passing attack.