Positional Analysis

A pair of first-place teams are set to clash this Sunday in Miami, where the Dolphins host the Chargers. Each unit will have to respond accordingly to garner a victory. The defense will work on containing Ricky Williams first and then stopping the air attack that will surely ensue, while the offense looks to again ride the coattails of the NFL's leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson. The special teams unit will look to build upon its recent success for the stretch run.

On Defense:

The defensive front must first stop talented Miami runner Ricky Williams. Rob Konrad leads the way for him and the trucks in the middle (Ray Lee Johnson and Jason Fisk) must take him out of the play to free up Junior Seau, Donnie Edwards and Ben Leber. Also manning the middle for Miami is big Jamie Nails, who is more physical than Fisk and could win that matchup.

These three athletic linebackers must also act as a shadow against a roaming Ray Lucas who will not hesitate to pull the ball down and run with it. Expect to see a lot of rollouts from this Norv Turner led offense to give Lucas some breathing room. He has been instructed that is the play is no there, to simply throw the ball away or tuck and run.

Edwards will surely lineup against rookie tight end Randy McMichael. Edwards has had great success in the coverage game and has been neutralizing players every week. His quest for his first Pro Bowl continues this week.

The secondary must limit the big plays. Continually they are getting beat deep despite playing the cover-2, which leaves the two safeties back. The size of Chris Chambers and James McKnight could pose problems for Alex Molden and Ryan McNeil. The secondary should play a little more bump coverage as they look to throw any timing patterns off against a quarterback that is not in tune with his receivers.

Rodney Harrison should see more time in the box to help contain Williams and that would leave the struggling Rogers Beckett deep. Beckett has had tackling issues the past few weeks and is the last line of defense on the big play.

"I think now because I'm coming from so far away that it's always open-field tackles, and at the pace and the speed of the game you have to make the right decision at the right time," Beckett said. "That's something that's kind of bothering me because I haven't been doing that. Missing tackles has never been something that's been a problem, but it is this year.

On Offense

Drew Brees and the coaching staff would be wise to employ three and five step drops to deliver the ball quickly. The defensive front of the Dolphins is focused on creating pressure and it starts with Jason Taylor, Adewale Ogunleye, Rod Burnett and Jay Williams. They face an offensive line that has played far beyond expectations. The line again looks to be without its two starting tackles. That will hurt this week, especially against the talented playmaker Taylor.

The line could force Taylor to the outside and run LaDainian Tomlinson to the inside of the tackle. Taylor is quick though, and can recover if he detects the pattern.

Of course Tomlinson will get a steady diet of plays. He will have to contend with the ever-present Zach Thomas zeroing in on him. The Dolphins defense has speed and athleticism on the edges and will look to force Tomlinson to go where they want him to go. He must be patient in waiting out his blocks as the room to run will not be there very often. Tomlinson is looking forward to matching up against Williams.

"Oh yeah, I'll be watching Ricky," said Tomlinson. "I guess you just want to show the other running back that you're better, and I'm pretty sure all running backs think like that. Whenever you go against another top running back in league, you want to out-gain him and do better than he did that day. I'm sure Ricky is going to be thinking the same thing."

"Their linebackers make a lot of plays. They have two big guys up front who really plug the holes. Their defensive ends can really rush the passer. So they are a lot like Denver," said Tomlinson.

If Tomlinson is running well it will open up some potential plays. The Dolphins secondary tend to look into the backfield and can be burned by the speed of Tim Dwight. Don't make the mistake of thinking they do not have closing speed though as they are the best cover corners the Chargers will face this year. Curtis Conway has made plays despite being double and triple teamed. This week he will face one-on-one coverage.

Stephen Alexander and Josh Norman must take some responsibility on their shoulders. They must find a way to use their size and strength to win battles and make plays in the receiving game.

Special Teams

The unit is making strides after a horrendous start. Tim Dwight is an aggressive punt returner who may be able to make something happen this week against the Dolphins. Ronney Jenkins is back on stride after a short stay on the inactive list. Darren Bennett has had a great past few weeks but will be punting to two dangerous returners in Dedric Ward and Robert Baker. Considering how bad the punt coverage team of the Chargers has been this could prove to be a matchup worth watching.

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