For Dolphins, cracking Chargers defense could be as simple as running the ball

MIAMI GARDENS — Much time and many resources have surely been put into the Miami Dolphins figuring out how they can crack an effective Chargers game plan in pass defense from last December’s trip to Los Angeles.

After all, in the nine months since, the Dolphins have changed defenses in favor of a scheme similar to what the Chargers run, with Los Angeles coach Brandon Staley once an understudy of new Miami defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. And former Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill is now on the Dolphins’ defensive staff. Miami’s offense has gone against this defense all offseason.

But there’s another solution, even if whatever adjustments Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel schemes up aren’t successful in consistently getting star receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle open against press-man coverage while the middle of the field is stacked with extra defenders.

Run the ball.

It’s something coach Mike McDaniel has said all offseason he wants to do more after the Dolphins had the second-fewest rushing attempts in 2022.

“I feel like last year we didn’t necessarily get the run started,” top Miami tailback Raheem Mostert said. “Let’s start fast and let’s dominate the line of scrimmage and establish that, and then carry that over into the run game and the pass game and play action, of course. That’s the conversation that we’re having right now. Let’s get this thing going, and let’s get it off on the right foot.”

Mostert recalled how last year the opening Dolphins three-and-out with three incomplete passes set the tone in the 23-17 loss at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers, although they came up empty on their opening possession due to a failed fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line, held the ball for 8:39. Then, Miami was backed up to start at the 2 to start another short series.

Mostert averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season, and from a yards-per-carry standpoint, Miami ranked 19th in the NFL. The Dolphins ground game has been effective in the preseason, even as different backs and different offensive linemen have entered games.

If Miami can establish the run in Los Angeles, it can also help consume time of possession, playing keep-away from quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense.

“He’s very well-detailed,” Mostert said of McDaniel, whom he’s been with dating back to time together in San Francisco before arriving in Miami. “He looks at every facet of the game, and he wants to be critical of how to approach every small, intricate part of the game, whether that be in the run game or in the pass game. He’s always going to try to execute a certain game plan that’s going to put players in a great position to win and then also try to put points on the board.”

Mostert isn’t sure if he’ll handle a greater workload Sunday with Jeff Wilson Jr. out. Last year, he averaged 11.3 carries in his 16 games played with a high of 18 rush attempts in a game.

“Whatever the game plan is, just got to attack it full-on,” he said, “and I’m ready to roll.”

But Mostert feels confident in Salvon Ahmed and rookies De’Von Achane and Chris Brooks behind him to pick up the snaps Wilson can’t take while he recovers on short-term injured reserve from injuries to his midsection and finger.

“I think it’s a great group of guys,” Mostert said. “We have a lot of great guys in the mix, and we’re going to need each other. If I need a break or anything like that, I know that one of the young guys got me, I know that Salvon got me — and vice-versa. If they need a break, I’m going to go in there and do my best to help us win.”

Said Achane, who could be in line for a greater role Sunday: “Sadly that happened (to Wilson), but I just got to come to work every day as if he was here. It’s like nothing changed. It’s just another day for me.”

Achane feels prepared for his first NFL game from extra time spent with veteran running backs coach Eric Studesville after practice, watching film and receiving feedback, along with hearing from his veterans in the running back room.

“I’m blessed to have a great group,” the third-round pick out of Texas A&M said. “When you first come in as a rookie, learning the playbook, it’s a lot to learn. Just asking these guys questions and them giving me answers. … They don’t have to do that. They’re not obligated to help me, and they do. I’m just thankful for that.”

In last year’s loss, while quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was 10 of 28 through the air, the Dolphins ran 19 times for 92 yards as a team. The Chargers return the league’s 28th-ranked run defense. They were seventh last year in pass defense, and this time, they’ll have cornerback J.C. Jackson and edge rusher Joey Bosa playing after they missed the last meeting.