The Chargers defeated the Dolphins 23-17 Sunday night at SoFi Stadium in Week 14.
Here are five takeaways from the Chargers’ seventh win of the season:
Justin Herbert enters the record books
The Chargers’ superstar quarterback was brilliant all night, flashing his strong arm, adequate mobility and quick processing. Herbert finished the game completing 39-of-51 passes for 367 yards and one touchdown, leading his team to victory.
Sunday’s game etched Herbert’s name into the NFL record books, topping Andrew Luck for the most passing yards through a player’s first three seasons of a career. Herbert, who sits with 13,056 passing yards, will have the opportunity to pad his record-setting statistic with four games remaining on the regular season schedule.
“Justin was fantastic,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said after the game. “He definitely led the way for our team. I thought that he played with great energy tonight that really affected his teammates in a positive way. He made a lot of winning plays, really good decisions throughout the game.”
The Dolphins blitzed Herbert on 43.6 percent of his dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats, and yet, he remained steady throughout the night. Herbert completed passes to nine different pass-catchers and converted third down attempts at a 50 percent clip.
“He’s the X-factor, wide receiver Mike Williams said of Herbert. “Obviously, he’s been doing it for us since he’s been here. Everybody know’s what kind of player he is. He’s the leader of this team. We just have to continue to follow him.”
The pairing of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams shine
Sunday’s game against the Dolphins marked the first time this season that Allen and Williams had played a complete game with one another. For weeks on end, the Chargers offense has been without one of their top two pass-catchers, and in some instances, they were tasked with navigating games without both players.
Williams returned in Week 14 from an ankle injury that’s caused him distress since Week 7. In his return to play, Williams led the Chargers with six receptions for 116 yards and one touchdown.
Collectively, the combination of Allen and Williams totaled 208 of the Chargers’ 432 yards.
“They are two of the best to ever do it,” Herbert said of Allen and Williams. “To have guys like that on our team, they bring a different energy, a different vibe to our team. To have those guys back in practice and here in this game, they came up big time on third down. Keenan and Mike, they were out there making plays. Super thankful to have those guys on our team.”
Chargers pass defense turns in brilliant performance
The Dolphins possess one of the league’s best quick strike offense’s in the NFL. The speed dynamic that Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle bring to the table is one that no other team can duplicate.
For great portions of this season, teams haven’t had much luck slowing them down. The Dolphins entered Sunday’s game as the No. 2 passing attack, one that would look to exploit the Chargers’ banged up defense.
Not so fast. Despite the Chargers being without six defensive starters, they held the Dolphins to just 10 completions for 127 passing yards.
“We have the best pass defense in the league, so we’re going to play like that. Our guys came to play tonight,” Staley said. “It was a hell of a gameplan by our defensive staff, led by [defensive coordinator] Renaldo Hill. All of the guys that played tonight were committed to playing a complete game. We knew that if we played the way that we played that it would look like that.”
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The Chargers plan for slowing down the Dolphins was getting physical at the line of scrimmage with the speedy pass-catchers. They played press coverage a season-high 35% of the time, per Next Gen Stats. The only reception the Dolphins had against press coverage was Hill’s 60-yard touchdown in which cornerback Michael Davis fell down on the play.
“We just wanted to get on them. I think a lot of guys, when they play them, they play them a little softer, top-down,” saftey Alohi Gilman said. “But for us, we were trying to be aggressive with them because they got gas and speed. Make them feel that pressure because it’s easier for them when you just sit back and they’re able to dink and dunk.”
A connected effort
The theme in the locker room from players, and Staley echoed the same message, was they were as connected as ever.
It was evident by the lack of results from the Dolphins’ offense that the Chargers were able to execute the gameplan just as it was drawn up during the week’s preparation.
“It was an incredible team win for us,” Staley said. “You just saw the confidence that our guys were playing with, how hard we played tonight — that’s what I’m really proud of, how hard we played and how connected we were. I felt like, defensively, we just answered all of the challenges in the game that we had to face.”
Defensive lineman Morgan Fox said the pass-rush was helped by adequate coverage on the back-end and vice versa.
“We kind of all got together this weekend and talked about playing fast and race to the ball, get to the quarterback when we get a chance,” Fox said. “That’s what we did. .. I think the whole group rushed well. It really helps on the back end when your DB’s are covering the way they were. So I think everyone just was finding the ball and helped create a lot of havoc.”
Playoff hopes stay alive
Each game moving forward is in essence, a must-win game for the Chargers to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Chargers sit with a 59 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. Their odds went up by 27 percent following Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.
“We have to keep going,” Herbert said. “If we want to get to where we want to go, it starts tomorrow. It starts with watching the film, fixing our mistakes. Looking at what we did well and correcting that. I think there is a lot of football left to be played. We’re going to get some guys healthy, get some guys back. We just have to keep rolling.”
Three of the Chargers’ next four opponents hold losing records. Due up next will be the Titans, who come to SoFi Stadium in Week 15 riding a three-game losing streak.
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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.
View more on Youtube Stephen A. reacts to Chargers defeat Dolphins 23-17 in Week 14, improving to 6-6 on the season
Stephen A. reacts to Chargers defeat Dolphins 23-17 in Week 14, improving to 6-6 on the season