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Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Chargers

I'm picking the Dolphins to beat the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Yes, I know. What am I thinking?

The Dolphins are in full freefall. There's a scandal. They're not responding on the field. They have injuries. A bad offensive line is worse. There are chemistry issues. And the home field advantage?

The fact of the matter is the Dolphins might get the smallest crowd of the season for this game. There might be fewer than 52,000 fans showing up for this one -- and a lot of those in attendance will be there to show their displeasure.

But I think the Chargers are flawed on offense (poor red zone offense) and defense (poor secondary and pas rush) and they did travel across country Friday evening to play the game. So I believe the Dolphins can pull one off.

Here are the keys to the game:

When the Dolphins pass the football: Remember when Mike Wallace said he was worried about not being in synch with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Remember he said it wasn’t yet time to panic but if the situation persisted past the eighth game of the season, then it was time to panic? It’s time to panic. Wallace and Tannehill are not getting it done together because the QB has been inconsistent with his deep passing. Sometimes the ball is underthrown. Sometimes, like last week, it’s thrown out of bounds. Tannehill has had no such problems throwing to Rishard Matthews, who last week was Miami’s leading receiver. The chemistry between Matthews and Tannehill has been curious because the receiver hardly got any snaps until a couple of weeks ago when Brandon Gibson was injured. This is great for Matthews, who is playing above expectations. But the Dolphins paid $60 million for Mike Wallace. And for several reasons they are not getting a good return on their investment. As to the Chargers DBs … Methinks they’d love to have Antonio Cromartie back as the Chargers are 28th in the league against the pass. ADVANTAGE: Miami (only because Chargers are so bad).

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins were on a nice little roll, with consecutive 150-yard rushing performances against New England and Cincinnati and then they hit a wall against Tampa Bay. They gained two yards against the Bucs. Six feet. It was the worst performance running the ball by an offense since 2007. The Dolphins have an opportunity for redemption because the Chargers allow an average of 4.8 yards per rush. That’s No. 29 in the NFL. It stands to reason the Dolphins might be able to do some damage if only they do not abandon the run. Unfortunately for Miami, there have been multiple games this year when the team was solidly in the game and still offensive coordinator Mike Sherman went pass-happy to his team’s detriment. So anything is possible. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Chargers run the football: Former Dolphins first round pick Ronnie Brown returns to Sun Life as the Chargers change-of-pace back. He is playing behind Ryan Matthews who so far this season is staying away from the injuries that have derailed him much of his career. The Chargers run the ball as a set-up to the pass. They are not a great running team as their No. 19 rush yards per game average proves. The Dolphins were once a prideful rush defense. In 2011 under a different coaching staff, they were No. 3 in rush defense. Last year they were No. 13 in rush defense and this year they’re at No. 20. The Dolphins have given up more than 130 rushing yards in six of their nine games this season. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Chargers pass the football: Phillip Rivers is enjoying a renaissance this season. He’s averaging 328 pass yards per game on road this season, which is the second-best mark behind Peyton Manning’s 359.3. Rivers has completed 20-plus passes while completing at least 80 percent of passes in three games, tying for most such games in season in NFL history. Rivers has also feasted on Miami defenses in the past. Has passed for 300-plus yards in the past two games against Miami. He doesn’t have the same receivers as in the past but tight end Antonio Gates is healthy and having a fine season. The Dolphins are again licking wounds in the secondary, as cornerback Dimitri Patterson’s status for the game is questionable. ADVANTAGE: San Diego.

Special teams: The two teams trade edges in this category. The Chargers have a better field goal percentage and are better returning punts. The Dolphins are better on kickoff returns. The major difference is in the punting itself. Brandon Fields is among the league’s best and his work has the Dolphins rated No. 7 in the NFL in net punting. The Chargers are rated No. 17. In a game where field position could be a major factor, this area could be key. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Coaching: Joe Philbin beat out Mike McCoy for the Dolphins head coach job in January 2012. Philbin has since failed to win more than he’s lost, is winless after byes, and his team often starts slow. McCoy is in his first season and is being credited for the resurrection of Phillip Rivers. Unfortunately the defense has regressed and the results so far aren’t any better than what Norv Turner had. This is clearly a match up of giants. ADVANTAGE: Even.

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