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NFL Preview - San Diego (4-5) at Miami (4-5)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Dolphins' fast start to the season has become a distant memory, lost in a current 1-5 slump that has featured struggles on the field and turmoil in the locker room.

The San Diego Chargers are in the midst of their own struggles that has them chasing a playoff spot and they'll try to get right this Sunday with their first victory in Miami in nearly 32 years.

Under second-year head coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins raced out to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2002 season, but that quickly gave way to a four-game losing streak.

Miami snapped that slide with a 22-20 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 31, but reports began to surface days before that game that tackle Jonathan Martin had left the team due to emotional issues following a prank at the team's lunch room earlier in the week.

Then, on Nov. 4, guard Richie Incognito was suspended by the club for his alleged role in bullying Martin, putting a lot of negative focus on the Dolphins ahead of their Monday night matchup with winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers were winless no more after besting the Dolphins 22-19.

Miami did rally from a 15-point deficit with 19 straight points, but Tampa Bay scored the winning touchdown early in the fourth as its defense stood up from there.

"(The Buccaneers) did a great job but we had plenty of opportunities and they played better in the fourth quarter and deserved to win," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. "They played better than us out the gate and the film will say that when we watch the tape. They had better tempo, they controlled the line of scrimmage better and you don't want to go on the road and dig yourself into a 15-0 hole, which is what we did."

Ryan Tannehill connected on 27-of-42 passes for 229 yards with two touchdown throws, while second-year wide receiver Rishard Matthews broke out with 11 receptions for 120 yards and two scores.

Miami, though, ended the game with a mere two yards rushing and allowed 140 on the ground.

"It's definitely tough because we want to be a balanced team," said Tannehill. "We want to be a team that can establish the run game and then use it to set up play-action and things like that, so it's something that we'll definitely try to get back on track."

The Dolphins will look to do so against a Chargers team they have bested at home in six straight meetings, including playoffs. San Diego has not picked up a win in Miami since Jan. 2, 1982 in a divisional playoff matchup at the Orange Bowl.

The Chargers have won the last two meetings overall, including 26-16 in 2011, and the all-time series is even at 14-14.

San Diego comes in with an identical 4-5 record, having lost two straight following a bye. After an overtime loss two weekends ago in Washington, the Chargers were unable to capitalize early and dropped a 28-20 decision to the Denver Broncos this past Sunday.

The Chargers trailed 28-6 early in the third quarter before Philip Rivers threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Danny Woodhead in the third frame and Ryan Mathews scored on the ground from a yard out early in the fourth.

However, settling for two field goals in the first half ended up being the difference.

"Offensively early on there we weren't able to get touchdowns," said Bolts head coach Mike McCoy. "We had the three field goal attempts there. Against a good team like this you have to finish drives with touchdowns in the red area. That's something we did not do a good job of early in the game."

Rivers threw for 218 yards while completing 19-of-29 pass attempts, getting sacked four times. Mathews ended with 59 yards rushing and Ronnie Brown, the second-overall pick of the 2005 draft by Miami, added 36 yards on nine carries.

San Diego lost despite holding the ball for more than 38 minutes compared to Denver's time of possession of 21 minutes and 57 seconds.

"We kept battling and made it a one-score game and had a chance," said Rivers. "Our defense gave us enough opportunities."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Probably a popular waiver claim in fantasy football this week, Matthews had a coming out party on Monday night with his game. It was unexpected to say the least, given his previous career highs in a game were four catches and 42 yards.

However, the 24-year-old became the first player in club history to have 11 or more catches and two touchdowns in a single game.

Lost in the mix behind Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, who have combined for 83 catches and over 1,000 yards this season, Matthews has stepped into the inside role left vacated due to Brandon Gibson's season-ending knee injury.

"I have to be honest with you, Matthews has exceeded my expectations at that position," Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "I see him more as an outside receiver than an inside receiver. The inside guys have to be nifty and he's a little more niftier than I gave him credit for."

Sherman will now be tasked with getting Miami's 25th-ranked ground game going after the horrid performance versus Tampa Bay. A return home could help as running back Lamar Miller, who had two yards on seven carries Monday night, had a career-high 105 yards rushing in the win over visiting Cincinnati and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry at home this season.

Tannehill has also done well at home this season, completing six touchdown passes to three interceptions, but will be behind a shorthanded offensive line.

In addition to missing Martin and Incognito, backup tackle Will Yeatman reportedly suffered a torn ACL in practice on Wednesday that would end his season.

That isn't good news for Tannehill, who has been sacked 37 times this season.

Miami's secondary did grab its 12th interception of the season on Monday after having just 10 all of last year. No. 12 came from safety Jimmy Wilson, his second of the season.

Defensive end Cameron Wake had three sacks versus the Bengals before coming up empty against the Bucs, while linebacker and leading tackler Dannell Ellerbe is coming off a solid game in which he had 11 tackles and a sack.

Miami will need to knock Rivers out of rhythm given his success this season. He has completed 71.6 percent of his passes with 18 touchdown throws to seven picks for an excellent 105.9 passer rating.

Rivers' average of 328 passing yards per game on the road this year is second- best behind only Peyton Manning and he has three games this season in which he completed at least 20 passes and 80 percent of his attempts. That matches Brett Favre and Drew Brees for a single-season high.

Rivers' top weapons are Woodhead, who has caught a club-high 53 passes with four touchdowns out of the backfield while also running for 220 yards and a score, and tight end Antonio Gates.

Gates caught four of eight targets last Sunday for 62 yards and is 67 yards away from 9,000 in his career. He is set to play in his 157th career game and has a chance to pass Dallas' Jason Witten (160 games) for the quickest to 9,000 yards.

Gates is also just six receptions shy of becoming the third-fastest to 700 career catches.

Rookie linebacker Tourek Williams notched his first career sack and also forced a fumble. He could see increased playing time with Larry English having gone on injured reserve due to a biceps injury suffered versus Denver.

Other young contributors on San Diego's 29th-ranked defense include linebackers Donald Butler and Manti Te'o as well as cornerback Derek Cox and defensive end Corey Liuget.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Dolphins and Chargers are two of five teams in the AFC that sit at 4-5 and just a game back of the 5-4 New York Jets for a playoff spot. Needless to say, the loser this weekend can probably kiss its playoff chances goodbye.

Three of Miami's five losses have come by three points or less, but things won't get easier this Sunday given the current state of the run game and offensive line.

San Diego, meanwhile, has allowed 58 points in back-to-back losses after yielding just 15 in two previous wins. A meeting with the Dolphins should get them closer to that form than the current one.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 24, Dolphins 17

11/14 15:43:32 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
ROC 8
DUR 2
 
2:30pm Friday
STONYBROOK
NCSTATE
 
7:05pm Friday
SYR
DUR
 
6:35pm Saturday
SYR
DUR
 
5:05pm Sunday
SYR
DUR
 
Final
TEX 3
CLE 12
Final
COL 6
CIN 4
Final
MIA 2
PIT 5
Final
CWS 5
TOR 3
Final
KAN 2
NYY 4
Final
BOS 4
MIN 6
Final
PHI 0
NYM 7
Final
SEA 3
TAM 0
Final
SFG 3
MIL 1
Final
DET 3
OAK 2
Final
HOU 4
BAL 5
 
1st
WAS 0
CHC 0
 
8:15pm Tonight
ARI
STL
10:05pm Tonight
SDP
ANA
10:10pm Tonight
ATL
LOS
1:05pm Thursday
CWS
BAL
 
4:35pm Thursday
CWS
BAL
 
8:05pm Thursday
BOS
TEX
 
10:05pm Thursday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Thursday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Thursday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Thursday
PIT
SDP
 
10:15pm Thursday
ATL
SFG
 
4:05pm Friday
KAN
CHC
 
7:05pm Friday
COL
PHI
 
7:05pm Friday
TAM
BAL
 
7:10pm Friday
MIA
NYM
 
7:10pm Friday
WAS
CIN
 
8:05pm Friday
BOS
TEX
 
8:10pm Friday
ARI
MIL
 
8:10pm Friday
CWS
HOU
 
8:10pm Friday
TOR
MIN
 
8:15pm Friday
LOS
STL
 
10:05pm Friday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Friday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Friday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Friday
PIT
SDP
 
10:15pm Friday
ATL
SFG
 
2:10pm Saturday
TOR
MIN
 
3:05pm Saturday
COL
PHI
 
4:05pm Saturday
TAM
BAL
 
4:10pm Saturday
ARI
MIL
 
4:10pm Saturday
CWS
HOU
 
4:10pm Saturday
MIA
NYM
 
4:10pm Saturday
WAS
CIN
 
7:15pm Saturday
BOS
TEX
 
7:15pm Saturday
KAN
CHC
 
7:15pm Saturday
LOS
STL
 
10:05pm Saturday
ATL
SFG
 
10:05pm Saturday
DET
ANA
 
10:05pm Saturday
NYY
OAK
 
10:10pm Saturday
CLE
SEA
 
10:10pm Saturday
PIT
SDP
 
1:10pm Sunday
MIA
NYM
 
1:10pm Sunday
WAS
CIN
 
1:35pm Sunday
COL
PHI
 
1:35pm Sunday
TAM
BAL
 
2:10pm Sunday
ARI
MIL
 
2:10pm Sunday
CWS
HOU
 
2:10pm Sunday
TOR
MIN
 
2:15pm Sunday
LOS
STL
 
2:20pm Sunday
KAN
CHC
 
3:05pm Sunday
BOS
TEX
 
4:05pm Sunday
ATL
SFG
 
4:05pm Sunday
NYY
OAK
 
4:10pm Sunday
CLE
SEA
 
8:05pm Sunday
DET
ANA
 
9:10pm Sunday
PIT
SDP
 
9:00pm Tonight
HOU
GSW
9:00pm Friday
GSW
HOU
 
9:00pm Sunday
HOU
GSW
 
8:00pm Tonight
ANA
CHI
8:00pm Friday
TAM
NYR
 
8:00pm Saturday
CHI
ANA
 
12:00pm Friday
AUBURN
CHARLESTON
 
1:00pm Friday
CALIFORNIA
CCAROLINA
 
1:00pm Friday
COLUMBIA
ECAROLINA
 
1:00pm Friday
ORALROBRTS
ARKANSAS
 
1:00pm Friday
OREGON
IOWA
 
1:00pm Friday
SFLORIDA
FAU
 
1:00pm Friday
WRIGHTST
NOTREDAME
 
2:00pm Friday
MICHIGAN
BRADLEY
 
2:30pm Friday
STONYBROOK
NCSTATE
 
2:30pm Friday
TEXAS
OREGONST
 
3:00pm Friday
INDIANA
RADFORD
 
3:30pm Friday
ULLAFAYETE
RICE
 
4:00pm Friday
LEHIGH
LSU
 
6:00pm Friday
CANISIUS
SWMISSOURI
 
6:00pm Friday
CLEMSON
ARIZONAST
 
6:00pm Friday
MERCER
FLORIDAST
 
6:00pm Friday
MOREHEADST
LOUISVILLE
 
6:00pm Friday
VIRGINIA
USC
 
7:00pm Friday
FIU
MIAFLA
 
7:00pm Friday
FLAAM
FLORIDA
 
7:00pm Friday
MARYLAND
MISS
 
7:00pm Friday
SACREDHART
TCU
 
7:00pm Friday
STJOHNS
OKLAHOMAST
 
7:00pm Friday
TSOUTHERN
TEXASAM
 
7:00pm Friday
VCU
DALLASBAPT
 
8:00pm Friday
HSTNBAPT
HOUSTON
 
8:00pm Friday
LIPSCOMB
VANDERBILT
 
8:00pm Friday
OHIO
ILLINOIS
 
8:00pm Friday
TULANE
NWILMINGTN
 
10:00pm Friday
PEPPERDINE
FULLERTON
 
10:00pm Friday
SANDIEGOST
CSANTABAR
 
11:00pm Friday
CSBAKER
UCLA
 
Final
ROC 8
DUR 2
 
7:05pm Friday
SYR
DUR
 
6:35pm Saturday
SYR
DUR
 
5:05pm Sunday
SYR
DUR