Chargers-Dolphins matchups: Justin Herbert-Kellen Moore offense put to the test

Los Angeles, CA - December 11: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert passes against the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium on Dec. 11. The Chargers and Dolphins meet again on Sunday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Breaking down how the Chargers and the Miami Dolphins match up heading into their season opener 1:25 p.m. PDT Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be shown on CBS and Paramount+.

When Chargers have the ball

Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore watches his players during training camp in July.
Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore watches his players during training camp in July. (Kyusung Gong / For The Times)

During the preseason, only a handful of projected regulars played. That means this game will bring the first true glimpses of coordinator Kellen Moore’s offense, which has been widely and loudly touted since he was hired in January.

Under Moore, quarterback Justin Herbert is expected to be given the opportunity to take more deep shots as the Chargers search for explosive moments.

“With the players we have, we’re not just out there throwing up prayers hoping someone comes down with it,” wide receiver Mike Williams said. “We’re not playing backyard football. We’re trusting the plan and our quarterback.”

Read more: Nothing has changed for Justin Herbert except for bank account and expectations

This game also will mark the debut of Quentin Johnston, the former Texas Christian receiver drafted No. 21 overall. Johnston had some issues with drops in college and during training camp and the preseason. His ability to secure the ball and Herbert’s trust will be something to monitor.

Miami has a new defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio, who was instrumental in the rise of Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley. At age 65, Fangio is an NFL DC for the first time since 2018, when Staley was his outside linebackers coach in Chicago.

When Dolphins have the ball

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks to pass during a preseason game.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks to pass during a preseason game against the Houston Texas on Aug. 19. (Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

When these teams played in December, the Chargers had a nearly 20-minute edge in time of possession and limited Tua Tagovailoa to a 35.7 completion percentage in a 23-17 victory. One of Miami’s two touchdowns came on a fumble return by Tyreek Hill.

“We didn’t do nothing crazy,” Chargers safety Alohi Gilman said. “Just executed and had fun and flowed out there.”

Matching that defensive performance won’t be easy, especially with the Dolphins motivated to right everything that went wrong nine months ago. Primary among Tagovailoa’s weapons are receivers Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Read more: Chargers' offense under new coordinator Kellen Moore is the bomb with wide-open spaces

“Every play, you have to respect that this play could go a long way,” Staley said of the pair. “They have that impact that few do in the NFL where — every play — a big play could happen.”

One of the principals involved when these teams met in December was Renaldo Hill, who was then the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. Hill is now on Miami’s staff, serving as the passing game coordinator/secondary coach.

“It won’t have an impact because they’re a lot different and so are we,” Staley insisted. “This matchup is going to be a lot different than the last one.”

When they kick

Cameron Dicker won the job for the Chargers in training camp ahead of veteran Dustin Hopkins, who was traded to Cleveland. Dicker was 19 of 20 on field goals and made all 22 of his extra points in 10 games with the Chargers last season.

Miami returns Jason Sanders, who is entering his sixth season.

By the numbers

Jeff Miller’s prediction

These teams are in very similar situations. Both are expected to contend for AFC wild-card spots in a very competitive conference, making this potentially one of the NFL’s best opening weekend games. The Dolphins will enter highly motivated to make up for their showing in Week 14 last season.

There’s also the typical trend where, in matchups this tight, the results often even out, meaning Miami avenges that 2022 loss. But the Chargers should be motivated, too, given their most recent appearance featured a 27-0 blown lead in Jacksonville in January.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.