Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 10 match between the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins.
1. Who Cools Down the Hot Hand?– The two hottest running backs in the NFL will take the field this week in the Chargers' Melvin Gordon and Dolphins' Jay Ajayi. Gordon leads the league in carries (193) and total touchdowns (11), and ranks third with 768 rushing yards. He is also fresh off a game in which he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after posting the third most yards from scrimmage in Chargers history. Meanwhile, Ajayi ran for 111 yards last week after surpassing 200 yards his previous two games, totaling 529 yards in Miami's last three games. Whichever team does a better job stuffing the run will have the upper hand, but it will be a tough task for the Bolts as Defensive Coordinator John Pagano detailed what makes Ajayi special:
"He is a good football player. He is probably the definition of a downhill, slash, one-cut runner that has the ability on the second cut to bounce it outside. He really has great vision. He has the ability to bounce it strong (so) you see a back that is not only quick to get to the edge, but if you are in his way, he is powerful (enough) to run you over."
2. Win in the Trenches – Part of the reason why Ajayi is in the midst of a breakout year is the play of Miami's offensive line. Their big bodies up front are dominating at the line of scrimmage, giving the running back lanes to burst through. However, the Dolphins are equally powerful in the trenches on the other side of the ball, led by Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Jordan Phillips. Head Coach Mike McCoy pointed out how the Dolphins' strength at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is what's led to their three game winning streak. The key for the Bolts is using their familiarity with the opponent to their advantage as this is the fourth straight season squaring off against Miami:
"Miami has an outstanding front, really on both sides of the ball. You see the way they play defensively and the way they are running the football. (They are) protecting the quarterback offensively, (and) that is the advantage of having played them in the past. You have an idea; you have gone against their personnel- or most of their personnel - so that is one thing you take away. You can always go back and watch the games (from) the past couple years and say, 'Ok how did I do against this player, here are some things.' But like I've said that is all in the past. It is a new year, we have to go out and play our best game as a team and individually in whatever your responsibility this Sunday."
3. Tame Tannehill – This is the fourth season in a row that San Diego will also face Ryan Tannehill, who has completed 156 of 241 passes (64.7%) with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions for an 87.4 QB rating at the midpoint of his sixth NFL season. He's also a threat on the ground with 22 rushes for 75 yards and another touchdown. Tannehill has been a thorn in the Chargers' side in the past as Pagano charted his growth over the years:
"(He) is different because the offense has changed over the years. You see a lot of the similarities in some of the things they used to do, but you see the similarities of how Adam (Gase) runs his offense when he was at Denver. The ability to be able to do the types of things that they want to do, so you see the growth."
4. Squeeze Juice – Jarvis Landry earned the nickname 'Juice' at LSU because of the energy he plays with that also rubs off on his teammates. One of the top wideouts in the NFL, Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase placed an emphasis on getting the ball in Landry's hands after an off game last week against the New York Jets. Overall, the Pro Bowl wide receiver has 49 receptions on the year for 605 yards but just one TD. Notably, he missed practice earlier this week with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable. Still, the Bolts expect to see a heavy dose of Landry, with Casey Hayward pointing out his strengths:
"A very good player. Landry is one of the best receivers in the league. In the slot, he's (particularly) difficult to guard. He does a lot of things for them to get open. He and Tannehill have a great connection."
5. Confuse Dolphins' D – San Diego's offense has been so multiple and versatile that they have kept opposing teams off kilter most weeks. They've changed tactics and formations from game to game as the opposition doesn't know what to expect. Those differences have confused defenses, which has helped them get off to fast starts. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt explains how the offense's depth has been a boon to their success, especially their fast starts:
"We go through and talk about the plays (we want to run at the beginning of the game) but it changes, there is no script for what we are doing. I think it is just a feel for what we've done during the week in practice and we've been executing. We would like to do that the whole game, and we've been pretty good, we've moved the ball consistently. We need to do a little better in the red zone, no question about that, as far as finishing drives. I am glad we are doing it, I don't know what to say the answer is to why, but I think we have confidence that we can move the football."