Dolphins Watch

September 26, 2009 5:19 AM

Dolphins look to avoid 0-3 vs. Chargers

After all but beating the Indianapolis Colts last Monday night, the Miami Dolphins travel to the West Coast to face the high powered San Diego Chargers at 4:15 p.m.

The challenge is a daunting one: Try to avoid going 0-3 against one of the most talented teams in the NFL.

Last week, Miami dominated the Colts statistically, except for the big statistic on the scoreboard, which read Indianapolis 27, Miami 23.

Miami rolled up 239 rushing yards, with Ronnie Brown being the primary weapon with 136 of them, to go with touchdowns.

Look for more of the same conservative game plan the Dolphins ran against the Colts, as they face an even more potent offense in the Chargers.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers leads the NFL with 688 passing yards, including a mind-boggling 436 against the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense in a 31-26 loss last week.

Rivers has a variety of weapons in Norv Turner's attack.

Vincent Jackson presents a large target at 6-foor-3, and he toyed with the Ravens secondary with six catches for a game-high 141 yards and a TD.

Cornerback Will Allen is a full five inches shorter than Jackson, which makes this a troublesome matchup.

Rookie corner Sean Smith is Jackson's height, though he is not the equal in experience, which could be a drawback for Miami.

Malcolm Floyd -- all 6-foot-5 inches of him -- is another formidable red zone target.

The Chargers also have former Dolphin Chris Chambers as a solid third option, and we haven't even gotten to the man who will be Miami's biggest nemesis Sunday: Former all-pro tight end Antonio Gates.

Gates has been good in each of San Diego's first two games, catching five passes in each for a total of 161 yards. And he has to be excited about this matchup, considering the Dolphins have struggled to cover big-time tight ends in each of their first two games.

Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez repeatedly beat Dolphins linebackers and safeties for big plays in Week 1, and he finished with five catches for 73 yards and a score.

But that's nothing compared to what Colts tight end Dallas Clark did last week.

Clark scored on the opening play of the game, an 80-yard TD -- beating a befuddled Akin Ayodele and Gibril Wilson -- on his way to a career high 183 yards on seven catches.

Gates is a physical and fast tight end, a combination of Clark and Gonzalez, and the Chargers have to know that is a weak spot they can probe all day.

The other most dangerous weapon for San Diego is in the backfield, but it's not LaDainian Tomlinson.

The once-great running back has only played in the Chargers season opener, and he gained just 55 yards on 13 carries before injuring an ankle. He missed last week's game, and won't suit up Sunday.

That's unfortunate for Miami, because LT's backup is now a better player.

Five-foot-six Darren Sproles scored the winning TD in San Diego's 24-20 win over Oakland, and last week he provided offense as a receiver, catching seven passes for 124 yards, including an 81-yard score.

If Dolphins linebackers have had problems covering tight ends like Gonzalez and Clark, what will happen when Rivers finds Sproles one-on-one with them?

Also, the Dolphins have to find what has been a nonexistent pass rush.

It was supposed to be bolstered by the return of Jason Taylor and the addition of Cameron Wake, but the Dolphins only recorded one sack last week, by Joey Porter, and the team has only three for the season.

The Chargers line isn't especially great, allowing five sacks in two games and missing center Nick Hardwick for the rest of the season.

Miami can also attack a San Diego defense that ranks 20th in the league and has surrendered an average of 25.5 points in its first two games.

The Chargers only have two sacks and rank 13th in pass defense, but remember, they played the Raiders' awful JaMarcus Russell in Week 1, so those numbers are skewed.

Also, they rank 24th against the run, so teams have been choosing that area to exploit all year.

Baltimore's Joe Flacco had an efficient day against San Diego last week, completing 17-of-26 passes for 190 yards and two TDs.

The Chargers defense also gave up 130 yards rushing againt Baltimore and 148 against the Raiders, meaning the Dolphins running game should continue its resurgence.

This should be a game reminiscent of last week's: Miami trying to bleed the clock, with San Diego having to make the most of its opportunities when it gets the ball in Rivers' hands.

Last year, Miami climbed out of an 0-2 hole, partly with a home win against the Chargers.

It's time for a new wrinkle from Sparano and company, who famously came up with the "Wildcat" last season after losing the first two games. And with their backs against the proverbial wall, the Dolphins will do just enough to pull out a 24-20 victory.

(Photo: Yahoo images)

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