The Chargers are just two days out from their home opener against the Dolphins. While the lineups and teams are different from the late-season 2022 matchup, Brandon Staley’s squad will look to recreate some of the same success they had last year.
Here are some ways the Bolts can tip the scales in their favor against Miami.
Disrupting Tua Tagovailoa’s rhythm and timing
Staley praised Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during his Wednesday media availability:
He is really, really accurate with the football. He makes quick decisions. I think the big reason why their passing game is so prolific is the timing that he plays with. He throws a really catchable football, which allows those skill players to run with it.
When Tagovailoa is allowed to go through his progressions and find a mismatch he likes from a coverage mistake, he’s top-tier. But the former Alabama product tends to struggle when situations are suboptimal. In terms of EPA/play, he struggled in situations where defenses played “perfect coverage” on plays last season.
Staley’s game plan last year confounded Tagovailoa by forcing him off of his timing with pressure up front and good coverage downfield. Essentially, the game plan should make him play like his more improvisational contemporaries at the position. Two-high shell, pressure from the edge defenders and the multitude of looks the Chargers can throw at Tagovailoa is how they win the day on defense.
Consistent pressure off of the edge
Left tackle Terron Armstead is out for Miami with injuries to his back, ankle, and knee. Journeyman tackle Kendall Lamm will likely play in his place this week. Austin Jackson is on the other side at right tackle. I’m unsure if the Chargers will get a more favorable pass-rush matchup all season. This is as healthy and fresh as Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa will be throughout the season.
The Dolphins’ game plan will be getting the ball out as quickly as possible when they can. That was true before the Armstead announcement and is probably even more accentuated now. Still, collapsing the pocket and making Tagovailoa uncomfortable is the Chargers’ number one priority on defense with Mack and Bosa.
Quality run defense in two-man high
Kellen Moore said it himself in reference to the Chargers’ own running game last week: “If you can’t run it versus shell, you’re going to get shell all day.” The lack of a consistent Dolphins’ rushing attack made the Bolts’ two-high safety scheme much more effective last year. Raheem Mostert finished the game with just 11 carries for 37 yards.
Staley’s defense will stay back until they’re given a reason not to. One thing to watch for on the ground: Miami was one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the league when running outside of the tackles. The Chargers were one of the worst rush defenses against outside zone.
Early big throws from Justin Herbert
To some extent, this game will be a feeling-out process for both Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio’s respective units. The more likely game script for Moore’s offense could be running to start the pass. But based on the matchup, I’d suggest that maybe the opposite thought process is the way to go.
Miami’s front seven is dynamic from both run defense and pass rush standpoints. They specifically allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards per game in the league last year.
Considering Austin Ekeler’s usage as a pass catcher in the open field as well, it may be better to come out firing in the passing game. Get Miami on their heels in the secondary first before attempting to establish Ekeler and company.
Mike Williams should be able to get mismatches
Jalen Ramsey being out for Miami is a huge advantage for the Chargers that isn’t being talked about enough. All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard will likely find himself locked up with Keenan Allen for large portions of the game. Kader Kohou will take the matchup when Allen comes into the slot.
But what’s the plan for Williams on the outside? Right now, the best options are looking like rookie second-round selection Cam Smith or Eli Apple. Williams has a pretty significant size advantage over both and he tends to start hot towards the beginning of the season.
This has all the makings of an early-season dominant Williams game if he’s able to exacerbate the mismatches in Ramsey’s absence.