Dolphins safety Reshad Jones has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, an injury that would be season-ending, but the team is seeking a second opinion, according to a source.
Jones’ injury would deal a devastating blow to a Dolphins defense that ranks 26th in the league and 31st against the run.
Jones has 51 tackles this season, which ranks second on the team, and 135 last year.
Pro Football Focus rates him third among all safeties this season: second overall in pass coverage and 12th-best against the run.
Jones likely would be replaced by Michael Thomas, with Walt Aikens moving up to the No. 3 safety job.
Jones had an interception Sunday and he and Isa Abdul Quddus (two picks in 2016) account for all three of Miami’s interceptions this season.
Jones also is Miami’s best run defender in the secondary, and his loss would make it even more difficult Sunday in slowing a Buffalo Bills rushing attack that is steamrolling opponents.
The Bills ran for an astounding 312 yards in a 45-16 thumping of San Francisco on Sunday, giving them 873 yards rushing (and a remarkable 6.7 per carry average) during an ongoing four-game winning streak against Arizona, New England, Los Angeles and the 49ers.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy has played like an MVP the past month, rushing for 489 yards during the winning streak, on 7.0 per carry.
Buffalo ranks first in the league in rushing (166.3 yards per game) and per carry average (5.6). For perspective, no other team is averaging even 5.0 yards per carry, with Tennessee second at 4.9.
This is clearly an unfavorable matchup for the Dolphins, who are yielding 147 rushing yards per game (31st in the league) and relinquishing 4.5 per carry (25th).
In their recent meetings against Buffalo, including two losses last season, “we’ve gotten confused in the run game,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said Monday. “They do a lot of intricate sets. We didn’t do a good job of adjusting in the past.”
Though the Dolphins generated a pass rush and throttled the Steelers’ passing game Sunday, their run defense remained vulnerable.
The Steelers ran for 128 yards on 16 carries, an 8.0 average. Even if wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 60-yard touchdown run is removed from those numbers, the Steelers ran for 4.5 yards per carry on their other 15 attempts, with Le’Veon Bell averaging 5.3 (10 for 53).
Dolphins defensive ends have been unable to consistently set the edge this season, one reason coaches demoted Mario Williams and Jason Jones on Sunday.
After playing fewer than 20 snaps twice in the first five games, Wake was on the field for 41 of Miami’s 55 defensive snaps on Sunday. He started opposite Andre Branch, who played 44.
Wake had half a sack Sunday; Branch had 1.5.
Meanwhile, the snap counts for Williams and Jason Jones plummeted. Williams logged only 13, Jones 23.
Coach Adam Gase said Wake and Branch “did a good job of executing the plan [defensive coordinator Vance Joseph] had in place. When they tried to run the ball, a high percentage of the time, they were in the right gap and doing the right thing.”
Gase said the team changed starting defensive ends not only for matchup reasons but also because “Vance and myself felt we needed to move some players around and see what we can do different. A little bit of it was we got crushed by Tennessee and they ran the ball all over us. We are never going to shrug our shoulders and be ok with poor production… so we made a change.”
The Dolphins were helpless to stop the Bills’ rushing attack in two losses last season, allowing 151 yards on the ground (4.4 per carry) in a 41-14 loss in Miami and permitting 266 (7.4 per carry) in a 33-17 setback in Buffalo.
McCoy ran for only 16 yards on 11 carries in the first game but had 112 yards on 16 carries in the second. Much of the damage was done by Karlos Williams, who ran for 110 yards in each game; he’s now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And now, after losing their best run-stopping linebacker, Koa Misi, to a season-ending neck injury, the Dolphins face that similar unfortunate scenario with Jones.
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.