Sad to say, but the Dolphins were officially eliminated from playoff contention following their Week 14 loss to the New York Giants. Still, with three weeks remaining in the season, now is the time to start evaluating players for the future. The San Diego Chargers are also out of the postseason picture, so they are in the assessment phase as well. Below are some key match-ups to watch in this game as both teams begin to move on to 2016.
CB Bobby McCain and WR Dontrelle Inman
It is fair to say Brent Grimes has fallen off this season, and he is not getting any younger, so it is time for the Dolphins to seriously look at the corner position. Bobby McCain is a 5-foot-9, 196 pound rookie out of Memphis, and he could be the top corner in Miami as soon as next year. So far, in three starts, McCain has posted 24 tackles and no turnovers. This week, he will likely be asked to cover Dontelle Inman depending on which Chargers receivers are actually healthy enough to dress for the game. Inman is in his second season out of Virginia, and he has a major size advantage, standing in at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The key for McCain is going to be his ability to break on the ball and make plays. If he allows Inman to get position, it will be a breeze for the much larger receiver to use his body as a shield to high point the ball. However, if McCain can read Philip Rivers’ eyes, he may be able to jump routes and cause deflections. McCain also needs to prove he can force turnovers, something that is expected from the top defensive backs in the league.
RB Jay Ajayi and LB Manti Te’o
Most observers would say the Dolphinns have underutilized Lamar Miller this year, but now is the time for them to rest the star running back. Instead, give rookie Jay Ajayi from Boise State a chance to lead the way to see what the bruiser can do. In limited action, Ajayi has averaged five yards per carry, which would rank him among the best in the business if he did it consistently. He will be running head first into Manti Te’o this week, and the linebacker holds a slight physical edge. Thus far, Te’o has recorded 61 tackles, half a sack, and a pick, and he should easily break his previous career-highs. Still, it was not that long ago when Te’o was run over by Eddie Lacy in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game when Lacy was only about six pounds heavier than Ajayi is now. While he may not be able to elude the linebacker, Ajayi should be able to use his size to power past him. Virtually a lock to be the team’s number two running back in 2016, Ajayi simply needs to show smart decision making and the ability to pick up crucial yards when his number is called.
WR DeVante Parker and CB Steve Williams
Notice a pattern here on the featured Dolphins players? If not, allow me to point out that they are all rookies. DeVante Parker may have the brightest future of all Miami’s picks from the 2015 draft, and he has gotten the start in the previous two weeks. As a whole, the Fins have struggled offensively this season, so Parker will need to step up and prove he can be a reliable number two receiver. Jarvis Landry tends to gobble up more than his share of targets, but his yardage totals are lower than anticipated. In fact, Parker’s average of 16 yards per reception is far superior to the 10.3 yards per catch offered up by Landry. Meanwhile, Chargers corner Steve Williams has started just two games this season, making 13 tackles and registering an interception; he may be unproven, but he is clearly talented. Beating Williams in one-on-one situations would go a long way towards inspiring confidence for next season.