The Miami Dolphins are coming off the heels of the most embarrassing offensive performance in franchise history. Miami has struggled to score points all season. The Dolphins rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category.
With the offensive line and running game in shambles, the trend of poor offensive play doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon. Any hope for Miami salvaging the season will rest with its defense.
Solid defense has been a staple of the Dolphins for many years now. Unfortunately for Miami, poor offense has also been the norm. The defense alone has given Miami a chance to win several games this season—most recently against Tampa Bay when safety Jimmy Wilson intercepted a pass and returned it to the 7-yard line. The offense then took the field, lost two yards and settled for a field goal.
Field goals have become an all-too-familiar site for Miami fans. The offense has been very good at scoring once in the red zone. However, it has been reduced to field-goal attempts rather than touchdowns far to often. Miami's last victory came on Halloween night against the Cincinnati Bengals. In that contest, the Dolphins defense scored more points than the offense, including the game-winning safety.
The Dolphins have a tough game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 71.6 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and a QB rating of 105.9. The Chargers are fourth in the league in passing yards, averaging 288.7 yards per game. San Diego is no one-trick pony. The Chargers average 106.8 rushing yards per game and rank seventh in the league in total offense.
If the Dolphins have any interest in staying in the playoff picture, they will have to key in on Rivers. Rivers ranks fourth in the league in both passing touchdowns and passing yards. He is having one of his best seasons in recent memory, and the Chargers need this win just as bad as the Dolphins.
If Rivers is allowed to stand comfortably in the pocket, he will carve this Miami secondary. Rivers has shown his emotion in the past and has been historically easy to rattle when pressured. Pressuring the quarterback is one thing the Dolphins are capable of doing. This could force some hurried throws and allow the Dolphins secondary, who already has more picks than all of last season, to make some big plays down the field.
This Dolphins defense has taken a bend-but-don't-break approach this season. Miami is allowing an average of 119.1 rushing yards per game and 238 passing yards per game. Collectively Miami is the 20th-ranked defense in the league. The Dolphins are also tied for second in the league with 12 interceptions and seventh in the league with 27 sacks. The Chargers have allowed the fourth-fewest sacks and are tied for the third-fewest interceptions.
Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace may finally get on the same page against the Chargers' 28th-ranked pass defense. The offensive line of Miami should be able to provide more protection for Tannehill against a Chargers front seven that ranks 20th in the league in both sacks and rushing yards allowed. The defense sure could use a little help from Tannehill and the offense.
Regardless of whom they play, the Miami offense has proven to be unreliable and has yet to give us any reason to think this week will be any different. The Miami defense will have to win this game. Cameron Wake and the defense will have to beat the Chargers the same way they beat the Bengals—by forcing turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback.
The defense will have to lead the charge as long as the Miami offense remains a train wreck. Miami wins this game if, and only if, the defense can match the effort and intensity it displayed against the Bengals, Browns and Falcons.
If it does that then the Dolphins will find themselves at 5-5 and in the middle of the AFC wild-card race. This strange and controversial season for the 'Fins will get just a little more interesting if the defense plays up to its potential.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted