The Chargers bludgeoned the Dolphins on both sides of the ball, outgaining their guests by roughly a two-to-one margin, averaging 5.5 yards per play, converting half of their third downs, and possessing the ball for 19 minutes more than Miami.
If not for a fluky touchdown by Tyreek Hill on a busted play and a late field goal in garbage time, this would have been a three-score Chargers victory.
Fast forward a year, and the personnel for both teams is largely the same, particularly when it comes to the Chargers’ offense vs. the Dolphins’ defense. Xavien Howard and Kader Kohou will again be asked to cover Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, who produced receiving lines of 12-92-0 and 6-116-1, respectively, last year.
Mike Williams with an insane catch while covered by Xavien Howard pic.twitter.com/y84DFUH5jj
— FinCuts (@FinCuts) December 12, 2022
So why is there reason to believe things will be different this time around?
There are two reasons, actually: Howard is healthy, and Vic Fangio is the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator.
Miami Dolphins vs. Los Angeles Chargers Breakdown
Howard was never himself last year after suffering a groin injury early on in 2022. So given Howard’s health — and then-defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s insistence to play man coverage — the result should have come as no surprise.
Per Next Gen Stats, Howard shadowed Williams on 82% of his routes. And when Howard was on an island with Williams, Herbert attacked.
Williams caught three balls for 97 yards when targeted with Howard as the closest defender. And those three completions came on vertical routes against a single-high coverage shell.
Mike Williams aligned across from Xavien Howard on 32 of his 39 routes (82% shadow).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 12, 2022
Fangio isn’t nearly as reckless with his calls. He’s a zone coach, so Howard and Kohou can expect far more safety help this time around.
“They’re a really good group,” Fangio said Thursday. “Obviously, Mike Williams has got the size, speed, outside-the-numbers threat both short, intermediate, and deep. A real tough matchup.
“Keenan Allen is the savvy receiver who does a really good job at getting open, has great knowledge of the passing game, running his routes the right way, and he’s got quickness and elusiveness.
“[Joshua] Palmer, No. 5, is a strong player. He’s kind of half-wide receiver, half-running back, and when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s really, really good. And they have the two rookies from TCU, the first-round pick [Quentin] Johnson is a size guy with good speed, and then they have the elusive really fast guy (Derius Davis) that runs the fly sweeps, all the gadget-type stuff. So they’re five-deep at receiver.”
The Dolphins are barely five-deep at cornerback, particularly without Jalen Ramsey. Howard and Kohou will start on the boundaries, and then Kohou will bounce inside when CB3 Eli Apple enters the game.
Their top backups are Cam Smith on the boundary and Kelvin Joseph in the slot, although Fangio suggested it’ll be an all-hands-on-deck approach in the secondary.
That includes at safety, where Brandon Jones is listed as the team’s starting strong safety alongside Jevon Holland. DeShon Elliott and perhaps even Verone McKinley III will also get work from scrimmage on Sunday.
“I think Eli has come in here — he came in late, I think after Jalen went down — and he’s done a good job with picking up the system,” Fangio said. “He’s a pro. He knows how to approach things, so a good level of trust there. And then, as far as Cam goes, I think it’s still a work in progress.”
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