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NFL Preview - Miami (0-2) at San Diego (1-1)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The San Diego Chargers believe they've yet to play up to their potential through the first two weeks of the 2009 season. The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, could be telling themselves they've got the rest of the NFL right where they want them.
The still-winless Dolphins hope to bounce back from a hard-to-stomach loss when they travel to Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday to take on an injury-riddled Chargers team in a Week 3 battle between two AFC playoff participants from last season.
Miami nearly executed a well-designed game plan to perfection in Monday's showdown with the powerful Indianapolis Colts, as the reigning AFC East champions used a punishing and persistent ground attack to play an effective game of keep-away from Peyton Manning and his dangerous offense. They didn't do it quite well enough, however, as the Colts' legendary quarterback had enough time to engineer a go-ahead touchdown drive with under 3 1/2 minutes to play that dealt the Dolphins a stinging 27-23 defeat.
The Dolphins lost despite possessing the football for a whopping 45 minutes and seven seconds and piling up 239 rushing yards on a weary Indianapolis defense.
Miami, which suffered a 19-7 road setback to a quality Atlanta squad in Week 1, now finds itself in a familiar position as it prepares to play its third straight game against a team that reached the postseason a year ago. The Dolphins also dropped their first two tests of the 2008 campaign before rebounding to win 11 of their next 14 tilts to edge out New England for the AFC East crown.
The Chargers are also coming off a game they felt got away from them, as an inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities and a couple of untimely mistakes resulted in a frustrating 31-26 loss to Baltimore last Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego amassed an impressive 474 total yards on the Ravens' vaunted defense, but were forced to settle for short Nate Kaeding field goals in four trips to the red zone that proved to be the difference in a close contest.
Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for a career-high 436 yards and a pair of long touchdown strikes, but also had two interceptions deep in Chargers territory that the Ravens converted into 10 points.
San Diego played the game without the services of 2006 NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, who's dealing with a sprained right ankle that could also keep the star running back out of Sunday's clash. Two other former Pro Bowl performers, nose tackle Jamal Williams (torn triceps) and center Nick Hardwick (ankle surgery), sat out last week as well and will not be available to face the Dolphins.
The Dolphins lead the all-time regular season series with the Chargers, 12-10, including a 17-10 home victory when the teams met in Week 5 of last season. Miami is 7-0 against San Diego since the Bolts last won a game in the series, a 1993 home triumph that came by a 45-20 count. The Fins have won in each of their past three trips to San Diego.
The postseason series between the Chargers and Dolphins is also tied, at two games apiece. San Diego won AFC Divisional Playoff contests over Miami in 1981 and 1994, while the Dolphins were winners over the Bolts in a 1982 AFC Second- Round Playoff and a 1992 AFC Divisional Playoff.
Chargers head coach Norv Turner is 1-2 in his career against the Dolphins, including a win while with the Redskins (1999) and a loss while with the Raiders (2005). Turner served as offensive coordinator of Miami in 2002-03. The Dolphins' Tony Sparano is 1-0 against both Turner and the Chargers as a head coach.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Miami's ball-control approach very nearly stole a win against Indianapolis on Monday, and it would be surprising if the team didn't bring that same philosophy to San Diego this week with the intent on keeping Rivers and the Chargers' potent passing attack on the sidelines. Running back Ronnie Brown (179 rushing yards, 2 TD, 3 receptions) bullied the Colts for 136 yards and two scores on 24 carries last week, with veteran counterpart Ricky Williams (108 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 1 TD) contributing 69 on 19 touches in the narrow loss. Brown also had a big day in the Dolphins' win over the Chargers last year, amassing season-highs of 125 yards and 24 attempts along with a touchdown. Quarterback Chad Pennington (359 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) didn't put the ball in the air much against the Colts until the game's final minutes, but he usually looked in the direction of Ted Ginn Jr. (13 receptions, 134 yards) when the Dolphins were forced to throw. The speedy wideout compiled 108 yards on a career-best 11 catches as the go-to guy of a mediocre Miami receiving group.
You can take it to the bank that the Dolphins will be coming after a San Diego defense that's yielded an average of 139 yards on the ground through the first two weeks and will be without a pair of starting linemen, Jamal Williams and end Travis Johnson (groin strain), on Sunday. Their absence puts an additional burden on leading tackler Stephen Cooper (20 tackles, 2 PD) and fellow inside linebacker Tim Dobbins (7 tackles), the two players in charge of keeping Brown and Ricky Williams' gains to a minimum. The Chargers are well-stocked at cornerback, where both physical starter Quentin Jammer (6 tackles, 4 PD) and nickel defender Antoine Cason (5 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PD) had interceptions of the Raiders' JaMarcus Russell in the opener, but safeties Eric Weddle (16 tackles) and Clinton Hart (7 tackles) have shown to be vulnerable at times in covering the middle. They would be helped out if proficient pass rusher Shawne Merriman (6 tackles) can reclaim his one-time dominating form. The three-time All-Pro, who missed nearly all last season with a knee injury, has yet to come up with a sack this year.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
San Diego's offensive course of action has been the complete opposite of the Dolphins', as Rivers (3 TD, 3 INT) leads the NFL with 688 passing yards through the opening two games and had 45 attempts against the Ravens last week. All that activity hasn't been by design, however. The Chargers have struggled mightily to establish a running game in the early going, primarily because of the injuries to Tomlinson (55 rushing yards, 1 TD, 1 reception), Hardwick and starting right guard Louis Vasquez, who hopes to return from a knee sprain that kept him out of last week's tilt. The diminutive Darren Sproles (49 rushing yards, 12 receptions, 2 total TD) has been a weapon as a receiver, as the versatile running back showed with a seven-catch, 124-yard display last Sunday that included an 81-yard touchdown grab, but mustered only 26 rushing yards on 10 totes as the primary ball-carrier. Rivers also has one of the game's best tight ends to work with in five-time Pro Bowl honoree Antonio Gates (10 receptions, 161 yards) and an emerging star at wide receiver in the 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson (11 receptions, 197 yards, 2 TD), who burned the Ravens for 141 yards and a score on six catches.
Rivers could be set up for another heavy workload and productive day this weekend, considering the Dolphins have had their troubles in defending the pass as of late. Manning managed to put up 303 yards even with a reduced amount of plays on Monday, and the back line of the Miami secondary was torched for touchdown throws of 80 and 48 yards in the loss. The unit also allowed a pair of scoring tosses to Atlanta's Matt Ryan in Week 1 and has yet to come up with an interception this year. The Dolphins do have two accomplished pass rushers in the seasoned outside linebacker duo of Joey Porter (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Jason Taylor (2 tackles, 1 sack), who'll be battling a reworked San Diego line that's given up five sacks so far. Miami has been pretty stout versus the run through the first two games, having surrendered an average of just 64.5 rushing yards against the Falcons and Colts.
There should be a wealth of excellent options to choose from in this potentially high-scoring affair. With the Dolphins preferring to run the ball and the Chargers needing to throw often, both Brown and Rivers are must-plays who should deliver plenty of points for their respective teams. Tomlinson owners should sit the ailing back for this week, even if he's somehow made active, but his injury puts Sproles squarely into the start 'em category. Jackson and Gates are strong choices on the San Diego side as well, while Miami's Ginn is certainly worth using after his breakout game on Monday. Pennington doesn't offer much value as a caretaker sort at quarterback, but don't give up on Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano (3 receptions) just yet despite a slow start. He draws a favorable matchup in a San Diego secondary that's given up its share of big plays to tight ends in the past.
This should be an exciting game between two teams that are desperate for a win and have the personnel to take advantage of each other's weaknesses. Rivers should have another big afternoon against a Miami secondary that had some major tackling issues last week, while the Dolphins' power-based ground game figures to cause fits for a San Diego front seven that's not at full strength. The Chargers aren't healthy on the offensive line either, and the team's inability to mount a consistent rushing attack and red zone problems may come back to haunt them for a second straight week. The Dolphins need to win this game in the worst way, and won't allow their opponent off the hook this time around.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 27, Chargers 23
09/24 16:21:52 ET