The Los Angeles Chargers are back above .500 this season after beating the Dolphins on Sunday night, 23-17.
LA had a near-perfect first half that saw them take a 10-point lead. Justin Herbert missed just five of 29 shots in the first two quarters and the offense had passed Miami by nearly 200 yards. While the Chargers moved the ball with relative ease, Miami’s offense was a whole different story. The rambling rhythm between Tua Tagovailoa and his receivers that we saw last week against San Francisco carried over into this game. Tagovailoa completed just three passes in the first half and the offense had 55 total rushing yards.
Despite those struggles in the first half, Tyreek Hill managed to put them on the board with a wild breakaway recovery that he returned 57 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, Hill also had a 60-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three. By then, however, Herbert and the Chargers were able to complete two field goal drives and that was enough to keep a Dolphins comeback at arm’s length.
Herbert finished 39 of 51 for 367 yards and a touchdown. Mike Williams led the team with 116 receiving yards, but Keenan Allen saw the most volume, catching 12 of 14 targets for 92 yards. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa was 10 of 28 for 145 yards and a touchdown.
The victory momentarily moves the Chargers into the AFC playoff table as the No. 7 seed, ousting the New York Jets. That said, if the Patriots beat the Cardinals on Monday night, they would overtake the Chargers to grab that playoff spot. Whatever happens after Week 14, it’s definitely going to be a wild ride to the finish and LA is firmly in that conversation. Meanwhile, Miami remains the No. 6 seed.
For a more in-depth look at how this game unfolds, check out our takeaways below:
Why the Chargers won
Offensively, Los Angeles had no problem moving the ball upfield throughout the game. This was evident in the Chargers’ very first practice of the night, despite the fact that they scored no points. They ran 78 yards and got to the Miami 2-yard line, but turned the ball over after a failed fourth attempt. In the first half, they scored on three of their five possessions and reached the red zone in all but one of those possessions.
A major element of that first-half success came from Williams. He had a great hard-fought catch against Xavien Howard on the opening possession to put LA into the red zone and in the second quarter he made a fantastic touchdown catch deep in the end zone to give the Chargers a 10 lead. Against Howard, Williams had 97 yards on three catches and each of those receptions was on vertical routes. Williams’ ability to rip off the big chunks was missed by the Chargers when he was sidelined through injury, so keeping him healthy for this playoff push could prove to be a challenge. major X factor.
Herbert’s mobility was also visible in this victory. By Next Generation Statshe escaped a career-high five pressures and made 13 on-the-go passes, two more than any other player in a game since 2016. It’s an area Herbert has thrived in all season as he leads the NFL in rushing completions, yards, and touchdowns.
Defensively, Brandon Staley’s team deserves a lot of credit, especially with star safety Derwin James sidelined for this game. They followed a similar plan to what the San Francisco 49ers did to that Miami passing offense a week ago and got similar results. They pressed Dolphins receivers at the line of scrimmage, which helped disrupt Tagovailoa’s timing and seemingly threw the entire offense out of whack.
Why the Dolphins Lost
As we mentioned briefly above, the Dolphins had no real answer against the media coverage. Tagovailoa lost momentum early in this game, completing just three of his 15 passes in the first half. For the game, that media coverage almost entirely eliminated the deep attack that has been so deadly for Miami this season. Tagovailoa managed to hit Hill for a 60-yard touchdown, but it was the only real punch the Dolphins offense had in that game. On throws of 15 yards or more in the field, Tagovailoa was 1 for 8. Meanwhile, seven of his 10 goals came from within 10 yards. For a team that wants to go vertical and use the speed of Hill and Jaylen Waddle — who didn’t get a catch until the fourth quarter — to their advantage, this enforced media coverage from Los Angeles has made that nearly impossible.
One thing that was particularly scratchy about Miami’s offensive approach in this game was their lack of aggression on the court. Heading into Week 14, the Chargers defense ranked 30th in the NFL in DVOA. Despite this, the Dolphins never really challenged them in this area and only had eight ground attempts in the first half and 19 for the game. With the passing offense not producing, exploiting that weak running defense should have been more important and could have helped balance the time of possession battle where LA nearly overtook Miami. Any semblance of ongoing play would also likely have kept the defense a bit cooler as the unit was on the field for 78 plays on the night.
Speaking of defense, she struggled to deal with Herbert as his mobility and running throwing ability nicked the unit at times during this game. That said, Jaelan Phillips was a bright spot with six total tackles and a sack, despite a very questionable passer penalty called against him.
Despite playing lackluster offensively for much of the game, Miami found itself down just six heading into the fourth quarter. The dagger the Chargers stuck in the Dolphins was a 17-play drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal from Cameron Dicker. That kick not only put LA up nine, but it also missed 8:39 and forced Miami to burn its final two timeouts. By the time the Dolphins got the ball back, they found themselves with no timeouts and down two scores with just 2:40 left in regulation time.
Herbert was sensational on this drive and made several dynamite throws, including that third laser to Allen to move the chains.
Herbert was 6 of 8 on the drive for 39 passing yards and recorded 10 rushing yards, which came on a third-and-8 to help move the chains and continue to bleed the clock.
Game of the game
Perhaps one of the most unlikely touchdowns of the entire season came in the first half of this game. In the second quarter, Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. took a second-and-4 pass from midfield to midfield before fumbling. The ball was released and there was initially a bunch of players jumping on it. Somehow he flowed free from that scrum and right past Hill, who picked him up and rushed 57 yards home for the touchdown.
By Next Generation StatsHill hit a top speed of 21.78 mph on that comeback, which is the third fastest by a running back this season and the fastest by a wide receiver.
It was about the only positive aspect of Miami’s offense in the first half and kept them spitting distance from the Chargers for the rest of the contest. Hill finished with that scoop-and-score by catching four of his 10 targets for 81 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown reception.
From there, the Dolphins travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on Saturday night. As for the Chargers, they will stay at SoFi Stadium and prepare for a face-to-face meeting with the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.