Revamped Chargers offense goes up against new-look Dolphins defense in opener

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Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio were two of the most prominent coordinators hired during the offseason. It also happens that they get to face each other in Week 1.

The first test for Moore’s Los Angeles Chargers offense will come at home on Sunday against Fangio’s Miami Dolphins defense in a matchup of playoff teams from last season.

“You tend to have one or two of these in a season. And certainly, this will be a huge challenge, because Vic is one of the best defensive coaches in our entire game,” said Moore, who came to the Chargers after four years directing Dallas’ offense. “There’s an element of projecting what happens at the beginning of the season because there’s a little bit of unknown.”

The Chargers spent most of the offseason getting acquainted with Fangio’s system when he was Denver’s head coach from 2019-21, while the Dolphins watched video of Dallas’ offense to figure out how that will translate to Justin Herbert and company.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley came into the NFL in 2017 when he was hired as an assistant in Chicago when Fangio was the defensive coordinator. Staley spent three seasons with Fangio — two with the Bears and 2019 with Denver.

Staley, who is in his third season leading Los Angeles, has a defensive scheme similar to Fangio’s, including zone coverage and limited blitzes.

Many hope Moore will open up a Chargers offense that relied on the short passing game under Joe Lombardi the past two seasons. Herbert is going into his fourth season but has his third offensive coordinator.

“I think there are a lot of good things that we did last year and things that we’re adding this year. The whole goal of our offense is to get the ball out in space to those guys to make plays. My job is to be the point guard and get them the ball, whether through the run game or the pass game,” Herbert said. “I think we’ve done a good job of learning and growing together. I’m looking forward to the offense playing on Sunday.”

The Dolphins had the league’s sixth-worst pass defense last season, which was one of the reasons why Josh Boyer wasn’t retained after three seasons.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Miami’s major acquisition during the offseason, suffered a knee injury on the second day of training camp and is out until at least December.

“It’s a new year, so all the work you put in should carry you through,” Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “We just got to lock in on the new scheme and system and different things they do.”

TUA VS. HERBERT

This will be the third time Miami's Tua Tagovailoa and Herbert will face each other. The Dolphins won 29-21 in 2020 behind Tagovailoa, who was the fifth pick in that year's draft.

Herbert — who went one pick after Tagovailoa — completed a career-high 39 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown in last season’s 23-17 win. Tagovailoa completed only 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards.

DEFENSIVE ENCORE

Despite missing Derwin James, Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson, the Chargers limited the Dolphins to 219 total yards in last year’s game.

Miami ended up gaining 117 yards on two of its 49 offensive plays. Hill had a 57-yard TD run after picking up a fumble in the second quarter and caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa.

The Chargers were 21st in total defense last season. New defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley has stressed better discipline in passing while looking to limit big plays. Los Angeles allowed 10 touchdowns of at least 39 yards in the regular season and playoffs.

CHEETAH’S GOALS

In his first year with Miami, Hill set the franchise’s single-season receiving yards record in 13 games, finishing with 1,710 yards on 119 receptions.

Hill is entering his eighth year in the NFL, and he has his eyes on a 2,000-yard season.

“I just feel like 2,000 is the magic number for every receiver,” Hill said during Miami’s preseason finale against Jacksonville, “and growing up, I’ve always wanted to play football and I’ve idolized guys, had guys as role models like Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Jerry Rice of course, Torry Holt. And to be able to break the receiving record in a season would be awesome. Especially coming from a small-town kid because I came from nothing, so it would be an honor.”

LOFTY EXPECTATIONS

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier has been as aggressive as anyone in recent years, adding pieces like Hill, Ramsey and Bradley Chubb to build a roster for immediate contention.

With their combination of experience and talent, the Dolphins are pushing for their second straight playoff berth, and they’re not afraid to talk about reaching the Super Bowl.

“I mean, why not talk about it?” Tagovailoa said. “Every other team is talking about it, regardless of their record. You have to believe it. If you don’t believe it, that’s where you go wrong. First off, regardless of opinions of people outside, it has to start from within. When it starts from within, you start believing in each other."

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

The Chargers' running game was a point of emphasis during the offseason.

Los Angeles had the league’s fifth-worst rushing attack last season but was first in the preseason (200.3 yards per game), with Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller leading the way.

The switch to a downhill style of running should also play to Austin Ekeler’s strengths. Ekeler’s two longest carries last season, including a 72-yard touchdown against the Rams in Week 17, were on downhill runs in the tackle box.

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AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames in Miami contributed to this report.

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