The Chargers’ new era of offense under coordinator Kellen Moore couldn’t survive more defensive woes under head coach Brandon Staley.
Miami amassed 538 total yards and an 8.5 yards per game average in a 36-34 Dolphins season-opening win at SoFi Stadium.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa finished 28 of 45 for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 215 yards and two scores.
The Dolphins took a 36-34 lead with 1:45 minutes left in the game on a four-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Hill. However, Jason Sanders missed the extra point, setting up the Chargers for a potentially game-winning field goal attempt.
But Justin Herbert and the offense couldn’t muster anything, especially after an intentional grounding penalty.
When these teams met here in mid-December, the Chargers dominated time of possession and limited Miami to 219 total yards. Tagovailoa was 10 of 28 and Hill had just four catches, totaling 81 yards.
This was completely different as the Dolphins ran up and down Staley’s defense all afternoon.
In Moore’s debut as the Chargers’ playcaller, they rushed for 234 yards and recorded 30 first downs. But it still wasn’t enough.
On their first possession of the second half, the Chargers went 75 yards in 11 plays and took the lead 24-20 when Herbert scored from one yard out.
However, the Dolphins came right back and advanced into Chargers territory before JC Jackson intercepted Tagovailoa in the end zone with a deep pass. The pickoff was Jackson’s first as a Charger.
That wasn’t the only thing notable about this moment. Jackson hesitated briefly before deciding to return the interception instead of dropping to his knees for a touchback.
He only reached the four-yard line, putting the Chargers’ offense in a difficult position. This situation was made worse when Herbert was sacked at his one-yard line on third-and-2.
JK Scott then followed with a 34-yard punt. On the ensuing play, Hill hit Jackson off the line of scrimmage en route to a 35-yard touchdown that put the Dolphins back on top, 27-24.
The Chargers’ offense responded again, and impressively, rushing 75 yards in 10 plays, with Joshua Kelley scoring on a two-yard run to bring them back to within 31-27 with 14 minutes left.
The Chargers entered this season with renewed hope on their defense, which was under attack in Staley’s first two seasons. Staley recently spoke about finally having the personnel to carry out his plan.
But against the Dolphins things continued right from the start. Miami scored on four of its first six possessions, and quarterback Tagovailoa lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line on another.
Hill had 104 yards at halftime and Tagovailoa finished the half 16 of 26 for 264 yards. Miami gained 326 total yards and averaged 8.8 yards per play. The Dolphins had 20 first downs, the Chargers had 12.
On the bright side, the Chargers’ impressive offense found its feet under Moore.
The first series of his tenure ended in a touchdown as the Chargers gained 94 yards in 14 plays and Austin Ekeler scored on a one-yard run.
The possession followed luck with Tagovailoa mishandling the snap and Chargers defensive back Nick Williams recovering at the five-yard line.
When the turnover occurred, the Dolphins had first-and-goal at the two-yard line.
The Chargers then marched the other way, Justin Herbert converted two third downs with his legs and Ekeler scored third-and-goal.
The big play of the run-dominated drive was Herbert and Keenan Allen connecting for a 36-yard gain. Otherwise, 12 of the 14 plays – including Herbert’s two scrambles on pass plays – were runs that yielded a total of 58 yards.
Moore, hired after four seasons as Dallas’ offensive coordinator, was expected to bring elements of explosiveness and creativity.
The latter on Sunday included using tight end Gerald Everett on an end run, lining up tight end Tre’ McKitty and backup center Will Clapp at fullback and playing at an increased tempo in spots.