In a battle of depleted offensive lines, the Miami Dolphins' beat the Chargers', and not coincidentally, the Dolphins won the game 20-16. Missing their Pro Bowl left guard, their second-round pick left tackle and their 1st-round pick centre, they still handled the Chargers defensive line, allowing Ryan Tannehill to drive for the required points, whereas the Chargers came up short on opportunities to win the game late.
The Charger O-line was again shuffled due to the absence of King Dunlap, with D.J. Fluker shifting to left tackle and Jeromey Clary kicking out from right guard to right tackle. Again, this patchwork line won't be confused with Joe Gibbs' Hogs, but they're surprisingly competent. They blocked well enough for Philip Rivers to pass for almost 300 yards, and Ryan Mathews to rush for 120. In the fourth quarter though, when the chips were down, Philip Rivers was hurried and knocked down and unable to get the job done.
This was a winnable game for the Chargers, and that they lost it is indicative again that we're dealing with a team in transition, if we're to avoid the word 'rebuild'. With the Richie Incognito bullying scandal causing havoc within the organization, the Dolphins had lost to the previously 0-8 Buccaneers on Monday night, then were forced to play the Chargers on a short week. That the Chargers couldn't come in, stun the Dolphins, make them give up, and cruise to an easy win, says a lot about their talent level and their playoff prospects.
If the O-line was a source of anxiety during training camp, and has actually proven to be competent, the secondary was just as much of a concern. And this concern is proving to have been justified. Today, John Pagano couldn't mask his defence's deficiencies with exotic looks and clever pass rushes. Charles Clay caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, with 30 of those yards happening after the catch, and on which he could have been tackled four times. Instead, the Chargers secondary kept whiffing, and you can almost expect a review of the play during the "C'mon, man!" segment during the Monday Night Football pre-game segment tomorrow. Our boys, aside from Eric Weddle, can't cover, and then after allowing the catch, they can't tackle. Expect a heavy emphasis on this area during the draft and free agency next summer.
One area we've bemoaned in the past, the lack of mental alertness and toughness of our Bolts, their dismal performance in the clutch, reared its head again in this game. While we could have hoped that the Norv Turner-ectomy performed last winter would rectify this problem, old habits die hard, and it will take a while to cultivate a new team attitude, one of smart gamers who know how to win, and who thrive under pressure. Players dropping interceptions, taking penalties, we had good examples of this lack of preparedness from our boys today.
The best was perhaps the brain-dead roughing the passer penalty taken by Corey Liuget, taken in the second quarter with the Dolphins in the red zone. On the play, Brian Hartline caught a short pass and fumbled the ball when tackled just short of the goal line. Eric Weddle recovered, but the turnover was nullified by the penalty. And it wasn't a marginal call, Mr. Liuget took a full two steps to tackle Ryan Tannehill after he'd released the ball. The Dolphins got a new set of downs at the 6-yard line, and the Chargers D, uh, D-flated, and let them in on two Daniel Thomas runs. In a close game, with the Dolphins just looking for a reason to give up, this was a huge penalty.
So a normally tough East Coast early game, the type of game that has historically caused problems for the Chargers, was ripe for the picking and they fumbled it. And it won't get any easier, with another road game at Kansas City next week.