The Miami Dolphins (8-4) visit the Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) at 8:20 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium; here are five things to watch for:
Tua vs. Herbert
Don’t look at this as a head-to-head competition between Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. Is not. See this in light of which quarterback is doing the most to help his team win as both teams chase playoff spots. This is a job that requires quarterbacks to do the little things as well as the big things. So check out which quarterback gets his team out of the huddle and at the line of scrimmage the easiest, which quarterback makes smart decisions like throwing the ball or taking the sack, and which quarterback keeps his receivers out of harm’s way by placing the pass in the right location. Yes, those 50-yard touchdowns are important, but so are the little things that keep the offense running smoothly and keep teammates calm and confident.
Dolphin running game
You’ve heard this before, but the Dolphins struggle to run the ball. He ranks 28th in rushing with 89.7 yards per game. The Dolphins, who have rushed for 99 yards in the last two games, attempted just eight runs last week against San Francisco. That makes the offense one-dimensional. Beyond that, the Dolphins had just 19 minutes, 26 seconds of possession. The 49ers had the ball for 40:34. And the Dolphins were 0-of-7 on three downs. A good running game could help those third down conversions. The offensive line needs to open some holes, and running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. need to hit those holes quickly.
Improvement of road defense
The Dolphins, who are eighth in points allowed at 24.1 points per game, have allowed at least 27 points in every road game. This trend cannot continue. They put too much pressure on the attack. The defense must hold the Chargers to a reasonable point total. That most likely starts with the passing trio of Bradley Chubb, Melvin Ingram and Jaelan Phillips putting pressure on Herbert, making him uncomfortable. But the defense could get its start from the secondary, led by cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Jevon Holland.
Solid pass protection
Pass protection is about skill, but it’s also about teamwork, the whole group — offensive line, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, coaches, everybody — working together. They have to figure out what this pass protection package does best without left tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral), who is questionable to play against the Chargers. Tagovailoa must have time to throw and the results have been tough without Armstead. If it plays, everything should be fine. If Armstead doesn’t play, it probably won’t go well. The Dolphins need to work harder this week to change that outlook. It could decide the game.
The Dolphins have been good at staying focused all season. They’ll need more on Sunday night as they continue their three-game road trip. It would be easy to overlook chargers. After all, this game is sandwiched between highly anticipated road games against San Francisco and Buffalo. And it’s basically a game to be won. Lose this one and you’re headed to Buffalo on a short week with a three-game losing streak in December as a very real possibility. The Chargers, a .500 team at a respectable 6-6, won’t strike fear into many opponents. But hopefully they’ll get the full attention of the Dolphins.