The struggling Dolphins offense was anemic during their 30-14 loss to the Chargers on Sunday and matters became desperate on the offensive line after left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey — both veteran stalwarts on the line — exited the game with leg injuries.
As a result, the makeshift Dolphins’ offensive line struggled mightily to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill or open holes for Miami running backs, who amassed a pitiful 44 total yards on 19 carries. For the Dolphins, there was no disguising that they came into the game with the 29th-ranked offense in the NFL, and it showed.
Albert, in his eighth NFL season, went out with 0:59 left in the first quarter after injuring his rebuilt right knee on a short pass play by the Dolphins. Albert missed much of the 2014 season with a torn ACL and MCL. On Sunday Albert limped off on his own power and went straight to the Dolphins locker room and did not return.
“Somebody fell on me, like when I hurt my knee last time it’s not serious,” Albert said. “I’ll be fine.”
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Pouncey, in his fifth NFL season, injured his left foot in a scrum at the end of a running play with 1:57 to play in the third quarter. Pouncey had to be helped off the field, unable to put weight on the left leg. He did not return and is likely done for the season.
In a rare triumphant moment for the offensive line, the play following Pouncey’s injury resulted in Miami’s first touchdown, a 12-yard scamper by running back Jay Ajayi.
“The injuries definitely didn’t help,” Ajayi said of the Dolphins offensive struggles. “We have a lot of key guys that are banged up right now, so it is really just the next man up mentality. We just have to figure out ways to win the game. Enough with the excuses and stuff like that, we just have to win.”
On the Ajayi score, reserve linemen Jamil Douglas played at center, Ulrick John at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at left guard. Miami’s other score came on a Tannehill 1-yard touchdown run with 1:41 to play in the game after the outcome had long been decided.
Albert’s replacements (first John and then Thomas) could not contain the Chargers’ right-side speed rush, especially from outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (two sacks). San Diego outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu added one sack.
John — a second year NFL player who has seen limited action — came in for a few series before Thomas replaced him, shifting from left guard to left tackle.
“It was a big blow when you lose anybody in any position but the next man, who happened to be me, has to step up,” John said. “Ingram has a really good first step.”
After Pouncey’s injury the Dolphins mounted a fruitless fourth quarter comeback attempt with Thomas, John and Douglas filling in on the left side of the offensive line.
“The whole thing was frustrating, you know, but that’s what we’re charged with. That’s why you have back ups. They have to be ready to go in and play,” Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell said. “It took us a while to get into rhythm with those guys.”
Thomas had a particularly sub-par game after being moved to left tackle, getting beat on the three sacks and getting flagged for a holding penalty, which was declined. Thomas was not available for comments after the game.
Also not in the lineup was right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who sat on the bench because of a toe injury. Reserve Jason Fox filled in for James in the starting lineup.
“Any time you lose a vet [Albert and Pouncey] of that caliber it is going to be tough but at the same time the next guy has to step up,” Dolphins starting right guard Billy Turner said. “[The Chargers] played a good game. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.”
The Chargers took advantage of the Dolphins patchwork offensive line, which wasn’t much of a fortress even before the injuries. San Diego had three sacks of Tannehill and forced numerous hurries and errant passes.
“You’ve got two pro-bowl guys going down, of course the Chargers are going to take advantage,” Douglas said.
Tannehill finished 20 of 34 passing for 216 yards, but looked uncomfortable most of the game with Chargers defensive linemen bearing down on him.
“You lose, really three guys if you include Ja’Wuan, and it’s tough,” Tannehill said. “But our guys came in, battled. We had some mistakes obviously, but they came in and battled and never quit. I respect that.”