San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins: 7 Takeaways from Miami's Crucial Victory
The term "must-win" is used so often that it seems to lose all meaning when applied.
This game was a must-win for both teams.
Miami won the game 20-16, which now has them tied at 5-5 with the New York Jets for the final AFC wild card spot, with two December meetings coming up against their heated AFC East rivals.
Despite the turbulence Miami has faced in the last two weeks, they are in control of their own destiny.
Here's a look at what I took away from Miami's performance against the Chargers, who at 4-6 find themselves deep in a hole.
Run Defense Is Still Too Suspect
To succeed in the playoffs, a team should be able to run the ball well and stop the run.
Neither of which have been specialties of the Dolphins this season, and both will be addressed in this piece.
I'll start with the run defense, which again was suspect, allowing a team to run for more than 130 yards for the seventh time this season.
I expected this. However, I figured it would be the shifty Danny Woodhead that would destroy the Dolphins. I was wrong about Woodhead, but it was Ryan Mathews who had his way against Miami's run defense, running for 6.7 yards per carry in route to a 127 yard afternoon on 19 carries, including a 51-yard run.
The Daniel Thomas Game?
A Dolphins running back had 57 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown while running aggressively and even recording a special teams tackle.
Yes, I'm talking about Daniel Thomas, whose feet have been compared on Twitter and in message boards to a part of the female anatomy.
Thomas' running was helped plenty by Miami's make-shift offensive line, which did a good job of opening up holes.
These holes were exploited by Thomas, and because of that he had his best game of the season.
Miami's Make Shift Offensive Line Stepped Up
Miami's offensive line has every reason to be banged up, and is currently the only unit I can somewhat understand being distracted by this entire mess.
To make matters worse with the mess, Mike Pouncey was out of the game with what Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel reported as gall bladder issues which had him hospitalized on Friday, while ESPN reported that their position coach Jim Turner was targeted as a person of interest in the NFL's investigation into bullying.
This meant that out of Miami's starting offensive line, three Week 1 starters were now out.
But they responded well, opening up holes in the run game while also doing a pretty good job of protecting Tannehill (only allowing four sacks, with three of those sacks looking more like coverage sacks).
Job well done for the Dolphins' offensive line.
Pass Rush Made a Huge 4th Quarter Impact
This looked like it would be another game where Miami's defense would falter in the fourth quarter due to exhaustion. The offense did their part by not putting together a good drive at the end to eat up clock.
But throughout the fourth quarter, Miami's pass rush was there. Cameron Wake had a huge tackle for a loss in San Diego's second to last drive, followed by sharing a key sack on the next play with Jared Odrick.
On the final drive, the Chargers were able to move the ball up the field, but the pressure was there, and Rivers definitely felt it.
It certainly helped on the final play of the game, where Rivers was facing a pass rush, which forced him to float the ball into the end zone, allowing Brent Grimes to deflect the pass away, ensuring a Dolphins victory.
Ryan Tannehill Is Efficient, but Hasn't Been Too Sharp
A look at the numbers shows that Ryan Tannehill had a very good and efficient game, as he finished 22-of-35 for 268 yards and a touchdown with only an interception marring his performance.
But it could've been so much better. Tannehill made some bad reads on third down during the game, often going to covered receivers who were in front of the first down marker. His deep ball was also suspect again, as he missed a few deep throws to Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.
Then there was the final Dolphins' offensive drive, which saw him make a big mistake on third down by running out of bounds instead of just falling to the ground and remaining in bounds to allow the clock to tick away.
Don't get me wrong, save for the first quarter interception (and the play before that should've been an interception), Tannehill did a good job. But his play left plenty to be desired.
The Coaching Staff Coached Well
I've only been impressed with the Dolphins coaching staff twice this season: on Halloween night against Cincinnati, and today against San Diego.
Today was their best game, the game plan was as close to perfect as you could get, with plenty of creativity and misdirection to make the Chargers' heads spin.
Also gone: the dreaded stretch play. I was looking for it, but couldn't seem to find it. Hopefully this is a harbinger of things to come, and it's out of the Dolphins' playbook for good as well.
Hopefully the players can do a better job executing the game-plan. Tannehill wasn't too sharp, and both Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace had days that ranged from forgettable (Wallace) to lucky Miami won (Hartline, who was bailed out by a stupid roughing the passer penalty on the Chargers when he fumbled the ball at the goal line).
I've railed against the coaches for their lack of creativity and sometimes common sense for weeks, but today they showed both, and the result was a Dolphins win despite the fact that the players weren't at their sharpest in terms of execution.
Despite the "White Noise", Miami Still Has a Chance in 2013
The Dolphins are a mess, and there's no denying that.
They're likely looking at a new rebuild in the offseason, with a new front office, new coaches, new everything.
There's so much "white noise" (copyright 2012, Erik Spoelstra) surrounding the team due to a scandal involving two of their players that football has become secondary when covering the Miami Dolphins.
On top of that, you have a defense that can't stop the run, an offense that's inconsistent, and a quarterback that we still aren't too sure about.
Despite all of that, right now they control their own destiny in terms of their road to the playoffs.
Now considering everything surrounding this team, that is quite an accomplishment, and can't be taken lightly.
Check out Dolphins Central Radio on Monday, when Thomas and Albert welcome The Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde, and 640 WMEN's Orlando Alzugaray, host of The Big O Show.