After an unscheduled weekend off due to Hurricane Irma and re-locating themselves to the West Coast to practice all this week, the Miami Dolphins will finally get started Sunday at the L.A. Chargers. Let’s take a look at the important components of this match-up.
Why to tune in
The Dolphins start year two of the Adam Gase era having been a surprise AFC Wildcard team a year ago. Despite losing starting QB Ryan Tannehill again to an ACL injury in training camp, they have signed Jay Cutler and look to unveil the veteran starting this week. As we wrote already, Cutler has talent all around him at skill positions and shouldn’t try to take it all on himself to win.
The Chargers meanwhile, are smarting off of their Monday night loss to AFC rival Denver, where they got into range, but missed the potential tying field goal in the final minute.
This game also marks the return of the Chargers to Los Angeles after 50+ years away in San Diego. However, they are currently playing in the 27,000 seat Stub Hub Center, while the new L.A. Stadium that they will share with the Rams gets built. Unfortunately, there are still seats for sale on Saturday night. This is fueling the idea that the Chargers are going to struggle in year one to catch on in the #2 media market in the country.
Key on: Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi
Ajayi will be critical to the success of Dolphins success all season, but in particular, early in the year. Ajayi ran for over 1,200 yards last year, averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and had three 200 yard single games. We have well chronicled that the Dolphins offensive line is in flux, and that will be a factor in this game and early in the year. Still, establishing a power run game will only help Cutler with play action, etc. So, can the Chargers limit or takeaway Ajayi? It will be a big key for both teams.
Turnovers are critical in any NFL game and it goes without saying, the Dolphins can ill afford them, while on the road. The Dolphins had 25 takeaways and 23 turnovers themselves for a +2 ratio in 2016.
Part of those 25 takeaways was the amazing four interception fourth quarter against the Chargers and Phillip Rivers in their 31-24 win last November in San Diego. LB Kiko Alonzo returned one of those for the eventual game winning points, as Miami came from 14 points down in the second half to snatch the victory.
Rivers threw two or more INTs in five games last year for the Chargers, and they were 0-5 in those games.
Needless to say, he must stay away from the picks in this one.