Miami at San Diego: Five Keys to a Chargers Victory

William RisserCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA -  DECEMBER 11: Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball during the game against the Miami Dolphins on December 11, 2005 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Dolphins won 23-21. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Like last week's game, the Chargers face an AFC playoff team looking to establish themselves in the conference pecking order. Only this time, the 'Bolts face a desperate Miami Dolphins team looking to get their first win.

Miami features a running attack that will be a tough matchup for the San Diego defense. On offense, the Chargers will continue to rely on the NFL's best passing game in the league at 330 yards per game.

Here's a look at five keys to a Chargers victory and it all starts on defense.

Load up against the Wildcat

Nine, 10 in the box maybe? The 'Fins average 164.5 yards per game on the ground, while the Chargers, 24th against the run, are giving up 139 yards per game. Miami is going to run the ball and the Chargers know it. 

Their Wildcat offense is averaging close to nine yards a play. These are crazy good numbers. San Diego saw it in Week Five last season and practiced against it in training camp so that should help.

Still, Ronnie Brown orchestrates the Wildcat beautifully with Rickey Williams and Patrick Cobbs taking hand-offs. 

Every layer of the defense will be under pressure to make tackles. They must also know their assignments and stay disciplined in their gaps.

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Defensive end Luis Castillo must anchor a revamped defensive line that will feature a rotation of newly acquired Alphonso Boone, Travis Johnson, Jacques Cesaire, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin. 

How that group plays will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

Inside linebackers Kevin Burnett, Tim Dobbins and Stephen Cooper are going to have to play a very physical game against a mauling offensive line. The outside 'backers will also need to be vigilant at keeping runners contained.

Safeties Clinton Hart, Steve Gregory and Eric Weddle will be the last line of defense. They will be depended on to wrap up ball carriers and make key tackles.

It will be interesting to see whether rookie safety Kevin Ellison, known as a big hitter, gets an opportunity to blow up any Miami backs.

If the defense can handle Miami's ground game the Dolphins can't control the clock on long possessions, keeping Philip Rivers and the offense off the field.  

Pressure the Quarterback

If you're going to make Chad Pennington beat you, a good pass rush is needed. So far, San Diego's rush has been lackluster to say the least. The Chargers are tied with a slew of teams for 24th in the NFL with a measly two sacks. Only three teams have taken the quarterback down less.

Having been sacked six times so far this season, it's clear Pennington can be gotten to. 

Shawne Merriman didn't practice Thursday due to a sore groin and simply hasn't been the same player he was before the injury. It's going to be a little while before he's back to his "Lights Out" self so I would think Jyles Tucker and first-round pick Larry English should see time.

Convert in the Red Zone

You've got to get touchdowns in the red zone. Chargers are a horrific 1-8 in the red-zone this season. That's too many field goals. 

Additionally, the defense has been bad in the red-zone giving up TDs on 6-8 possessions from the 20 yard line in. 

If Rivers and Co. can covert 50 percent of their red zone opportunities this game might be over by halftime. 

Look for the Big Play

The Chargers are made for the big play with Philip Rivers spraying balls all over the field to Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles.

As Manning showed, the Dolphins are susceptible to big plays. The Chargers must exploit this.

Chargers have 11 plays over 20 yards which ties them for the NFL lead. Additionally, the 'Bolts have two plays over 40 yards which ties them for 3rd in the league. This is an explosive offense. 

Commit less than 10 Penalties

San Diego is worst in the league drawing 21 flags so far. The 145 yards is also an NFL worst. You can't beat yourself and win in this league. The false starts, delay of games and offsides has to stop. 

Conversely, Miami has only committed eight penalties for 47 yards. 

Odd Bits and More

Again, the Chargers avoided the game being blacked out. It was lifted without the 24 hour extension. The Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions weren't as fortunate and will have this week's game blacked out. 

The current Las Vegas line has the Chargers by six while ESPN's inline has the 'Bolts by two. I'm thinkin' they'll cover easily. 

Next week's game at Pittsburgh will be on NBC for Sunday Night Football.

The 'Bolts' next home game, Oct. 19 against the Denver Broncos, will be on Monday Night Football. Like the opening night game in Oakland, the Chargers and Broncos will wear throwbacks to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the AFL.

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