The Los Angeles Chargers took on their third consecutive loss on Sunday, falling to the Miami Dolphins 29-21.
In a game that felt close enough to taste but far enough to feel the pressure, early special teams mistakes doomed the now 2-7 Chargers in South Beach.
The difference in the game came early and swiftly. The first came as the offense sputtered out of the gate, being forced into a three-and-out. Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel made his way through the line to block a Ty Long punt, setting up a Salvon Ahmed touchdown to go down 7-0.
— NFL (@NFL) November 15, 2020
The next Dolphins drive came to a near end at the Chargers 10, the defense coming up with a red-zone stop. The field goal attempt was nullified by a defensive offsides on Quenton Meeks, giving the opposition a first down. It took three plays for Tua Tagovailoa to find Jakeem Grant for the short touchdown pass, making it 14-0.
These two instances garnered the most impact throughout the game but the Chargers made various mental mistakes on special teams. The hurdles presented by these mistakes eventually proved too difficult to climb back from.
Based on Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Chargers currently have the worst special teams in the league. Since 2014, the franchise has managed to stay within the 10-worst special teams in the NFL each year.
Inability to Use Run Game Properly
The Chargers tallied 99 yards on 29 carries, putting up their least productive rushing performance since week 4.
After a solid performance by Kalen Ballage in last week’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders, it looked like the former Dolphin had caught his stride in the second half. Ballage’s usage peaked in the third quarter with six carries for 29 yards after recording 26 yards in the first half.
Once Justin Herbert threw an interception two plays into the fourth quarter, leading to a Dolphins touchdown and a 26-14 deficit. Shane Steichen’s play-calling changed. The game plan went away from a run game that was succeeding, leading to three touches in the fourth quarter for Ballage.
Prior to today’s game, the Dolphins were giving up the seventh most yards on the ground, averaging 131.8 per game. The Chargers were putting up 135.6 rushing yards per game (8th in the NFL) coming into this game. This became a clear opportunity to capitalize despite being short on backfield help.
With nearly a full quarter left, the reaction was to move away from a balanced attack to a one-dimensional one. The decision not to emphasize the running attack in the first half against mediocre run defense and move away from it after yielding positive results in the third quarter is dumbfounding.
Chargers Losses in Close Games
This now marks the seventh one-possession loss for the Chargers. Since 2000, the Detroit Lions (twice), Minnesota Vikings and Buccaneers have recorded seasons in which they lost nine games by one-possession. With seven games left, the Chargers could see themselves in that company.
Keep in mind that Joey Bosa, who was fourth in pressures by edge defenders going into this week, was ruled out on Friday. Despite giving up 29 points, the Chargers defense did manage two three-and-outs, a fumble recovery, and two other drives that ended in five plays or less.
Special teams mistakes and a Herbert interception resulted in 20 points for the Dolphins. Five of the Dolphins drives started in Chargers territory, accounting for 19 points and a missed field goal.
This could have been a lot worse.
Next for the Chargers
The Bolts get to go back home to SoFi Stadium to host the 0-9 New York Jets. Kickoff is slated for 1:05pm PST.