Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (8-4) and Los Angeles Chargers (6-6) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 14 game at SoFi Stadium (8:25 p.m., NBC):
When the Dolphins run: It’s the 28th-ranked rushing offense versus the 29th-ranked rushing defense. The Dolphins seemed to be heading in the right direction on the ground after acquiring Jeff Wilson Jr. at the trade deadline, but he only got one carry in Sunday’s loss at the 49ers. He and Raheem Mostert combined for just 33 yards on eight carries.
A huge key to the run game is having Terron Armstead in at left tackle. Miami loves to send runs behind him, but if he can’t play again due to his pectoral strain, the Dolphins won’t have that component in their run game.
The Chargers have given up more than 150 yards on the ground in six straight games. The last time they kept an opponent under 100 was Oct. 17 against the Broncos. Derwin James (106 tackles), an FSU alum and two-time Pro Bowl safety, is strong in run support and linebacker Drue Tranquill has 103 tackles. Along with star edge rusher Joey Bosa, the Chargers have four defensive linemen on injured reserve. Edge: Even
When the Chargers run: Los Angeles running back Austin Ekeler is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, but it’s more about what he does in the passing game out of the backfield. He has produced nearly as much through the air as on the ground — 85 receptions for 564 yards and five touchdowns while posting 138 rush attempts for 589 yards (4.3 average) and seven touchdowns on the ground.
The Chargers offensive line has left tackle Rashawn Slater, who made a Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, on IR, but it is still anchored by fellow Pro Bowl lineman Corey Linsley at center. Miami will also likely face Sony Michel behind Ekeler after Michel couldn’t make the Dolphins’ roster this preseason.
The Dolphins’ run defense ranks ninth, and that 110.5 rushing yards allowed per game number has been inflated by scrambling quarterbacks. Miami is still very strong at stopping the run, and although it allowed 121 yards on the ground against the 49ers, it came on 34 attempts for a 3.6 average. Edge: Dolphins
When the Dolphins pass: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa seeks a bounce-back effort after what was his worst game since returning from a concussion earlier this season. His lengthy interception-less streak was snapped with back-to-back picks. He appeared uncomfortable in the pocket and, although there were some miscommunications on routes, he had multiple throws that were well off target when he had time to deliver them accurately in an 18-of-33 performance for 295 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble lost that was returned for a touchdown.
As Tagovailoa’s ankle is being monitored this week, so is a fibula injury for wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who had just one catch for 9 yards at San Francisco. Tyreek Hill, however, after nine receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown, is on the verge of breaking a Miami franchise record, just 11 yards shy of Mark Clayton’s 1984 record of 1,389 receiving yards.
Armstead’s availability is crucial in pass protection. Will he play? Does Greg Little go back out there at left tackle? Can Eric Fisher start right away after signing this week? At least Miami won’t face Joey Bosa after younger brother, Nick, demoralized the Dolphins with three sacks and a forced fumble. The Chargers still do have Khalil Mack and his seven sacks. Cornerback Bryce Callahan has a team-leading three interceptions, and LA has James at safety and former St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Edge: Dolphins
When the Chargers pass: Quarterback Justin Herbert himself has all the tools, but he hasn’t had Slater protecting his blind side, Keenan Allen has missed seven games and Mike Williams has been absent for four. Herbert has a 66.7 completion percentage, throwing for 3,339 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Allen, a five-time Pro Bowl wideout, has been back for three straight weeks and just saw his most targets of the season, 14, coming up with six receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Raiders. Meanwhile, Williams, after hurting his ankle again Nov. 20, has been limited. St. Thomas Aquinas product Josh Palmer has a team-leading 612 receiving yards.
Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, after coming down with his first interception of the season against the 49ers, now has a takeaway in three straight games. It was discouraging that, after knocking Jimmy Garoppolo out of Sunday’s game, the Dolphins were beaten by rookie Brock Purdy. Linebackers had a rough game in coverage, so it will be another challenge against Ekeler after Christian McCaffrey had a big game against them. It will be important for the pass-rushing trio of Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram to pressure Herbert. Edge: Chargers
Special teams: Dolphins kick/punt coverage teams haven’t been good of late. The 49ers averaged 17 yards on two punt returns and 25 yards on two kickoff returns. Jason Sanders has made all his kicks since the funk he hit right before the bye week two games ago. Cedrick Wilson Jr. had a 14-yard punt return.
Chargers kicker Cameron Dicker has made all 10 of his field goals from within 50 yards while missing one that was longer. DeAndre Carter has been solid on punt returns for LA, with an 11.7 average. Edge: Chargers
Intangibles: The Dolphins have gotten accustomed to being on the West Coast over the past week, staying in California after the loss in Santa Clara. I give coach Mike McDaniel an edge over the Chargers’ Brandon Staley, and Miami, despite having Armstead’s pectoral strain to watch, plus Tagovailoa and Waddle’s minor injuries, is healthier than Los Angeles overall. Edge: Dolphins
PREDICTION: Dolphins 31, Chargers 27