Game Scout, Week 3: Chargers vs. Dolphins

The San Diego Chargers are motivated to pick up their first home win of the season while the Miami Dolphins are desperate to avoid an 0-3 start. Here's a pre-game run-down of the latest injury news, match-up analyses and predictions.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/27/09
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS (Dick Enberg, Dan Fouts)

SERIES: 23rd regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series 12-10, and have won seven straight, including a 17-10 win last October when the Chargers were without Shawne Merriman. The Chargers' last regular-season victory in this series was Dec. 27, 1993.

PREDICTION: Chargers 30-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: Chargers TE Antonio Gates has 10 catches for 161 yards, while Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark combined to catch 12 passes for 256 yards and a pair of scores against Miami. With RB LaDainian Tomlinson's status still uncertain, the Chargers' offense will again fall on the arm of QB Philip Rivers and his ability to get rid of the ball quickly behind a banged-up line.

The Wildcat reappeared as a consistent threat for the Dolphins last week, producing 107 yards on 12 plays, and Miami will pound away on the ground with San Diego's defense trying to cope with the loss of DT Jamal Williams. If RBs Ronnie Brown (5.3 yards per carry) and Ricky Williams (4.2) continue to be productive then QB Chad Pennington should be highly efficient working on short passing downs.

FAST FACTS: Pennington is 4-0 in four career starts against the Chargers. ... Chargers RB Darren Sproles has 524 total yards in two games.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers:


C Nick Hardwick
Andy Lyons/Getty
--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) is out this week against Miami.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle) worked some on the side but not with the team. He won't play Sunday.

--OLB Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) didn't practice and likely won't play Sunday.

--S Kevin Ellison (ill) should practice Friday.

--DE Travis Johnson (groin) didn't go and won't play this week against Miami.

--OLB Shawne Merriman (groin) didn't practice but will try to on Friday. There's still a chance he will play Sunday.

--LB Brandon Siler (ill) should practice Friday.

--RG Louis Vasquez (knee) didn't practice but will try on Friday -- he could go Sunday.

--ILB Stephen Cooper (ankle) was limited Thursday but he will play Sunday.

--P Mike Scifres (groin) was limited Thursday but he is a go for Sunday.

--LG Kris Dielman (ill) worked Thursday and is a go this week against Miami.

--FS Eric Weddle (ill) worked Thursday and is a go this week against Miami.

--LT Marcus McNeill (ill) worked and is a go this week against Miami.

Dolphins:


OT Vernon Carey
Rick Stewart/Getty
--RT Vernon Carey is limited at practice with a sprained right knee. If he can't go, expect Nate Garner to fill in.

--OLB Cameron Wake has been inactive in the first two games. Coach Tony Sparano said he needs to refine his technique on special teams and improve against the run to earn a spot on the active 45.

--WLB Joey Porter tweaked a hamstring Monday and was limited in practice on Thursday. Porter hasn't missed a game since his final season in Pittsburgh in 2006. If he's not cleared to play, look for Wake to be activated and for Charlie Anderson and Quentin Moses to receive increased snaps.

--FS Gibril Wilson has been struggling with tackling issues, a known strength of his when he was second in the league last year among safeties.

--WR Ted Ginn had a career-high 11 catches but took a lot of media and fan criticism this week for not catching what was a catchable ball or two -- he had both hands on the pass -- in the end zone, including the game-winner. Coach Tony Sparano defended him, calling it a "hard catch."

--RB Ronnie Brown had 125 yards against San Diego last season and 136 yards last week against the Colts so look for him to receive the bulk of the carries against a beat-up Chargers' defensive line which is allowing 139 rushing yards per game.

--CB Sean Smith held Colts Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne to one of this three catches for 37 yards Sunday and nearly caused an intereception that Wilson dropped before halftime that would've saved the Dolphins three points.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers:

The Chargers have a long list of injuries to worry about as they prepare for the Miami Dolphins' visit on Sunday.

One more thing the Chargers' defense has to fret over: the Wildcat.

Miami showed in Monday's loss to the Colts the Wildcat is still a big part of their offensive scheme. The Chargers know that first hand, as they were exploited last year in Miami's 17-10 win against them.


Coach Norv Turner
Harry How/Getty
Chargers coach Norv Turner, an offensive wonk, said the Wildcat is for real.

"Well I just think that it's an exciting style and certainly something that adds a burden to a defense preparing for it," he said. "Anything you can do from a system standpoint to put a great player in the best position to be successful, then it's got to be good."

That would be Miami's Ronnie Brown, the shifty running back who makes Miami's Wildcat go.

"There are a lot of people that have experimented and fooled around with the Wildcat, and one thing that is unique to Miami is, the guy doing it has some very special skills," Turner said. "When he gets in space and you get people slowed down a little bit he does some special things, so it's obviously utilizing your personnel the best way you can."

Brown has seven carries for 34 yards and a touchdown when these teams met last year. He finished with 136 rushing yards and two scores.

"It's not a gimmick, that's the thing, people that observe it and understand it and then who have to defend it realize it's another way of running a very, very, very sound set of offensive plays," Turner said. "So there is nothing gimmicky about it. It might have a gimmicky name but that about as far as that goes.

"I think that every game comes up a little bit different. This league to me is about match-ups, it's about how games come up and I think that it was good for our team to be able to watch the game a week before we play them, because it's ultimately about winning the game as a team and managing what we have to do and I think that it puts an emphasis on what you have to do defensively, what you have to do with the special teams and what you have to do on offense when you get ready to go play a game.

"Certainly it's amazing that Indianapolis was able to win the game, but what they did was under a real tough set of circumstances manage the game as well as they could."

The Chargers now face the task of defending the Wildcat and winning the game. And it doesn't figure to be easy with the Dolphins aiming to avoid a 0-3 start.

Dolphins:

Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington usually saves his best game for the San Diego Chargers, and his team certainly needs another one to avoid an 0-3 start.

Pennington is 4-0 in four starts against San Diego while completing 74.2 percent of his passes for 1,018 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. In last year's 17-10 win over the Chargers in Week 5, Pennington was 22-of-29 for 228 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to former Charger Greg Camarillo.


QB Chad Pennington
AP
"I think some of it is coincidence, matchups on the team besides me,'' Pennington said. "I don't think there's a lot that goes into that as far as your record versus a team, it's just that's the way that it's happened, including last year. I always know that when I do face the Chargers, especially on the road, that I've got to really be in tune with my protections and all the different things that we do because they give you a bunch of different looks and they're going to test you and ... you're playing against a team that also has an explosive offense. I got to make sure that I can't give them opportunities, and give them a short field too, by turning the ball over."

Pennington and coach Tony Sparano know that Chargers cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are aggressive, so he needs to take care of the ball.

"Their secondary's very active. I think they're very athletic in the secondary with their two corners, and you got to be very aware of where these guys are,'' Pennington said. "We got to make sure that we don't allow the linebackers to control the front with their penetration, and moving around, and things like that. Anytime you face a 3-4 defense, you got to account for all four linebackers - who's rushing, who's not, who's in coverage, so we got a big challenge."

But with nose tackle Jamal Williams out for the season, expect the Dolphins to pick up where they left off against the Colts when they gained 239 yards on the ground and pound the ball at his young replacements - Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin and newly signed veteran Alfonso Boone. The Chargers allowed 148 rushing yards to Oakland and 130 last week against the Ravens, but just 46 in the second half. They're ranked 24th against the run.

In last season's meeting, the Dolphins ran for 167 yards, with running back Ronnie Brown going for 125 yards. Brown is coming off a 136-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Colts.

"They protected pretty well the other night, we ran the ball, you don't get to 240 yards rushing by accident in this league, just doesn't happen,'' Sparano said. "They played pretty well, Jake Long played pretty well the other night. I thought our special teams played pretty well the other night. I thought there was some pretty good things that came out of that ballgame the other night ..."

The Chargers have been preparing for the Wildcat, especially after watching Miami gain 107 yards on 12 carries, including a touchdown, when running the trendy formation last week. When they played the Dolphins last year the Wildcat was fresh off its smashing debut against the Patriots, scoring four touchdowns out of it. Against San Diego, Miami gained 49 yards on 11 Wildcat attempts, including a 5-yard TD run by Brown.


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