Deep Inside Dolphins at Chargers

Junior Seau, fried chicken and watermelon, Jay Fiedler or Brian Griese, Ladanian Tomlinson or Ricky Williams. The story lines are in abundance for this Monday nighter. Go deep inside the Miami Dolphins vs. the San Diego Chargers....

Plenty of hype for the San Diego Chargers this week as they make their first Monday night appearance since 1996 when they defeated Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions. That was back when Junior Seau played for the team with the lightning bolt on their helmets. Fast forward to this coming Monday as Seau returns to the "Q" sporting an aquatic mammal on his helmet....

FRIED CHICKEN VS WATERMELON

Where do win begin? Juniors back in San Diego. Ricky Williams vs Ladanian Tomlinson. Will it be Jay Fiedler or Brian Griese? Dolphins run defense vs Chargers' Tomlinson. Watermelon or fried chicken... Say what? I know, I know it's already been blown out of proportion. Junior Seau was asked on San Diego based radio( AM1090) how to stop Ladanian Tomlinson, his response was to give him fried chicken and watermelon and keep feeding him. Say what? Juniors statement was preposterous but this is the NFL not the LPGA and Junior and LT are buddies. So let's put the racism talk to bed and get on with the football.

Edge: Who's cooking the chicken?

JAY FIEDLER OR BRIAN GRIESE

And the quarterback carousel goes round and round, round and...So who's it gonna be? Fiedler is listed as questionable with an MRI revealing only a strain in his left knee, but should be ready to go. Head Coach Dave Wannstedt will make the call on who will start, regardless of Fiedler's health. Dolphin fans may be itching for Griese as Fiedler and the Dolphin offense have not exactly been lightin' it up. The Dolphins offense ranks 21st in the NFL with 305.8 yards per game. Fiedler ranks 23rd in quarterback rating(71.8), while throwing 6 TD's with 7 INT's and a completion % of 56.9. With the pass offense struggling teams can put more emphasis on stopping Ricky Williams. The Dolphins will probably keep the decision under wraps until Sunday. If they are ever gonna go with Griese now would seem like as good a time as any....

Edge: Time to Griese up that offense.

CHARGERS VS QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL

The bolts have been on a wild ride when it comes to opposing quarterbacks. Against the Broncos, Jake Plummer suffered a shoulder injury giving way to Steve Beuerlein, who came in and continued the onslaught. During week 6, Jacksonville played it close to the vest on who would start against the Chargers, the rookie Byron Leftwich or the veteran Mark Brunell. The Jags went with the rookie and he came out looking like Roman Gabriel. Against Cleveland, the Browns benched an ineffective Tim Couch mid-game in favor of Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb would've led his team back to victory if it wasn't for Ladanian Tomlinson. Now it's Griese or Fiedler on Monday Night Football. After the Monday nighter the Chargers travel to Chicago to face the Bears who have recently decided to stick with Chris Chandler over Kordell Stewart. What's next? Doug Flutie in relief of Drew Brees? And the quarterback carousel goes round and round...

Edge: The Carousel, I'm dizzy.

DOLPHINS RUN DEFENSE VS LADANIAN TOMLINSON

Ah, what a match up. The Phins rank first in the league against the run, yielding just 68.8 yards per game for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. The Dolphins have faced running backs Stacey Mack, Kevin Faulk, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, Fred Taylor and Travis Henry. Some solid backs in that group but none the caliber of Ladanian Tomlinson. Putting more perspective on this, those backs have averaged 16 carries for only 45 yards against the Dolphins defense. Only two of those backs had 20 carries or more(Barber 20-71yards, Mack 27-89 yards).

As for Tomlinson, the only thing to stop him this season has been the Chargers lack of commitment to stick with the run. The explosive "LT" is averaging 19 carries for 109 yards per game(5.7ypg). Out of six games Tomlinson has received 20 or more carries in only half of them, the result: each time he has surpassed the 100 yard mark. In those three games the numbers are staggering: 25.7 carries for 164 yards(per game avg), that's a per carry average of 6.4.

Something has to give here. Will it be LT or Miami's D? I'm sure the Dolphin defensive brain trust knows all about Tomlinson and the struggles of Drew Brees. Look for the Dolphins to load up the box and make Drew Brees beat them. The questions for the Chargers offense are: whether or not Drew Brees is on target and will they be persistent enough to get LT his touches? The Chargers are 1-14 when Tomlinson carries the ball 20 times or less.

Edge: Dolphins D, unless Chargers find a way to get Tomlinson 25 carries.

RICKY WILLIAMS VS CHARGER RUN DEFENSE

Ah, what a nightmare. For the Charger defense that is. What was once the mighty Charger run defense is now mightily weak. The bolts rank 28th against the run, yielding 137 yards per game, while allowing 4.6 yards per carry. To the Chargers credit, the run defense is coming off a performance which held the Browns talented runner William Green to 65 yards. One potential bright spot for the Chargers could be rookie safety Terence Kiel(Texas A&M). Against the Browns, Kiel saw his most playing time of the year and responded with 6 tackles and an INT. Kiel brings speed and solid tackling to a team that is in dire need of both. Keeping him out of the starting lineup much longer could prove to be a bad move come Monday night.

Junior Seau won't be the only one to celebrate homecoming on Monday as Ricky Williams also hails from San Diego. Ricky leads the NFL with 161 carries, while ranking 6th in yardage with 555. His yards per carry are down(3.4) mainly due to the lack of production from the passing game. If you bet that Miami will run the ball on first down you'd be right 7 out of 10 times. Defenses have caught on to this and are loading up the middle to stop #34 on first down. A key match up could be Chargers DT Jason Fisk against Mark Dixon. Dixon, perhaps the Phins' best lineman, is coming off an injury and will most likely see his first action of the season taking over for the struggling Jamie Nails at left guard.

Edge: Ricky. Last year the bolts couldn't stop Ricky even with Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison.

LORENZO NEAL VS ZACH THOMAS

The big bulldozer against the undersized tackling machine, now this is good one. The Dolphins do a good job of protecting Zach and that's good because Lorenzo Neal will lay out defensive linemen if given the chance. With the Chargers likely missing starting center Jason Ball, Neal may just get those chances to hit some big fellas. This plays in to the hands of #54, leaving him free to make his tackles. One factor in this equation will be the health of defensive tackle Larry Chester who suffered a stinger this past Sunday. If Chester can't go Jeff Zgonina will get the start. Zgonina doesn't have the size of Chester and may be a bit surprised with the Chargers powerful rookie guard Phil Bogle . Edge: Flip a coin.

DOLPHIN PASS D VS DREW BREES

The Dolphin pass defense ranks uncharacteristically low at 30th in the league giving up 259 yards per game. Don't let the numbers fool you. Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison still cover receivers while Jason Taylor rushes the passer. The Dolphins have allowed just 4 passing touchdowns, posting 10 interceptions while yielding an average quarterback rating of a measly 69.1.

Drew Brees is the 28th ranked quarterback in the league with a 69.3 rating. He's averaging 201.8 yards per game and has thrown 7 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Drew is in his second year as a starter and has his skeptics as to wether he is the future in San Diego. Coming off a sub par performance in Cleveland(9-18 for 74 yards, INT) and heading for the bright stage which is Monday night only adds to the pressure that befriends the young quarterback from Purdue. With the Dolphins gunning for Tomlinson, look for Drew to get his number called early in hopes that establishing the pass may open some lanes for Tomlinson. Drew is a rhythm quarterback and will need to find one for the Chargers to have a chance. Watch for Drew to look David Boston's way early and often.

Edge:Dolphins. Jason Taylor keeps Drew Brees out of synch.

CHARGER PASS D VS BRIAN FIEDLER

Yeah, I know his name is Jay. What I don't know is who'll be starting at quarterback for the Dolphins on Monday night. Wether it's the mobile Fiedler or stronger armed Griese, the Phins ought to be licking their chops facing the Chargers 30th ranked defense(363 ypg). Through the air the bolts rank 23rd allowing 241.3 yards per game. The more telling stats would be the Chargers allowing 12 TD passes against just 5 interceptions, not to mention they rank 29th allowing opposing quarterbacks a rating of 92.4. The Charger defense is an overhauled unit boasting 7 starters new to the team or playing in different positions. The team speed is greatly improved but players are still learning to trust each other and the young guys have taken their share of lumps.

As for Miami's passing offense the numbers aren't exactly earth shattering, ranking 28th in passing offense with 185.8 ypg. With the Chargers emphasis on stopping Ricky Williams, WR's Chris Chambers and Derrius Thompson may find themselves singled up against young corners Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis. Inconsistent would best describe the young defenders performance this season. One game they play like 7 year vets, the next game they play like 7 year olds. Both are coming off stellar performances against the Browns with Sammy Davis notching 3 passes defensed. Slot WR James McNight will likely be matched against another youngster in rookie Drayton Florence. Who wins these battles will have a major impact on this game. The big question remains: Brian Griese or Jay Fiedler?

Edge: Chargers. Too much uncertainty at quarterback and interior offensive line for the Phins.

UNDER THE RADAR

Steve Christie VS Olindo Mare. With both defenses focused on stopping the opposing running backs and both offenses struggling throwing the ball, the kickers may have the final say. The weak legged Christie is 8 of 10 on the year while the usually dependable Mare is only 7 of 11. Mare has the stronger leg, Christie has the history.

Edge: Mare. Padres aren't in the world series which means there is no more dirt at the Q.

KEEP AN EYE ON:

The Phins' Randy McMichael is coming off a career game in which he caught 8 passes for 102 yards. He may find a tougher go of it against the Chargers who do a good job limiting opposing tight ends to an average of 4 catches for 33 yards per game.

The Chargers power forward, I mean tight end, Antonio Gates has been a wonderful story for the team. Gates starred on the basketball court for Kent State last year and hasn't played football since high school. Almost halfway through this young season and Gates has already earned considerable playing time and now appears to have moved to #1 on the depth chart.

David Boston. The Chargers seem to be in a pattern of big game for Tomlinson; big game for Boston. If that holds true Boston should see plenty of chances.

Junior Seau of course. He'll be amped up as usual and knows the Charger offense as good as anyone.

FINAL EDGE: With Ricky Williams and Ladanian Tomlinson the focal point of these offenses it will be the quarterbacks that determine the outcome. If Brees is on and can find David Boston, the Dolphins will be forced to soften their defense, which should open some things for Tomlinson. If Tomlinson doesn't get his touches regardless of what's happening Charger fans may call it an early night. The Dolphins won't be reluctant to stick the ball in their workhorses gut facing a weak Charger run defense. If the Dolphins can run the ball and control the clock it will make life much easier for the Dolphin QB. For the Chargers on defense the plan is to stop #34 at all costs. If the bolts are successful in limiting Ricky Williams, solid play from the young corners and a pass rush becomes absolutely crucial. Too many questions for the Chargers and too much D for the Dolphins.......Dolphins in a close one.

Contact Will at will.powered@verizon.net

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