Miami Dolphins

What’s up with Cameron Wake? Here is an explanation for his recent slump

Cameron Wake, not Jordan Phillips, got credit for this sack from Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Cameron Wake, not Jordan Phillips, got credit for this sack from Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. ctrainor@miaiherald.com

Don’t do it.

Fight the temptation.

Cool those hot takes.

Whatever you do, don’t say Cam Wake has lost a step.

Because every time you do, he proves you wrong.

Until the NFL did Wake a favor Friday, the narrative is this: He was in the worst pass-rushing slump ever. And the Dolphins’ defense has not been able to overcome it.

Wake had officially gone four consecutive games without a sack — that is, until the league reversed a game-day decision on the safety that wasn’t Sunday. Jordan Phillips originally got credit for dropping Ryan Fitzpatrick at the goal line. But the original scorekeeper was wrong, the NFL decided; the sack now belongs to Wake.

Still, Wake is not at the top of his game. During the past four weeks, the Dolphins have surrendered 938 passing yards, been outscored 142-65, let opposing teams convert 25 of 55 third downs — and have not won once. The team has just two sacks during this four-game skid.

“I have high expectations of myself,” Wake said recently. “It’s probably not one thing; but at the end of the day, I’m not a guy to make excuses. Whatever the scenario of the game, whatever the blocking situation is, I’ve always been a guy who feels like it doesn’t matter. You have to go out there and you have to get your job done.”

Wake continued: “If getting to the quarterback is my job, then I have to do it, and all of those other factors that contribute to the issues or the frustrations of not getting there, you have to put them aside and go out and do your job. I’ve done it in the past and I have to do it going forward.”

Wake has earned the benefit of the doubt. He went the first three games of the 2012 season without a sack, only to record 4  1/2 in Game 4. He recorded four sacks against the Titans in 2015 after getting shut out for five consecutive games over two seasons.

And in 2016, coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon, Wake had just one sack in his first five games, but 10  1/2 in the next 10.

So yeah, Wake gets hot. But that’s assuming he still has enough left in the tank to turn it on.

Wake was an elite pass-rusher in 2016, according to both our eyes and Pro Football Focus’ grades. The website credited him with 66 total pressures last year, seventh-most for 4-3 edge defenders.

And while he has been stout against the run this year, he has not had the same pop in the pass-rush game, particularly over the past four games. He has just seven hurries and two hits during the Dolphins’ losing streak. Two possible reasons: His age, and fatigue from usage and lack of a midseason bye.

Wake, who turns 36 in January, has been on the field for 59 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps — the second-highest usage rate on the defensive line behind Ndamukong Suh.

On the surface, this looks like over-correction from 2016, when Adam Gase acknowledged Wake was not used enough early in the season. Wake was on the field for just 51 percent of Miami’s defensive plays last year.

But that is not the full story. The Dolphins could not get off the field last year, so they had a higher volume of snaps. Wake played nearly as much then as he is now, even though his usage rate was lower.

In truth, Wake is only on pace to play 14 more downs — less than one a game — than he did in 2016.

“You worry about [fatigue] with all of those guys,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “I haven’t, truthfully, seen a downturn in his play. He’s been doing fine and doing everything we ask of him. I’m not watching him going, ‘Man, he stinks. Can we get him off the field?’ I think we try, through the week, to handle those guys and keep them fresh. I think in terms of him being not human, I just think he’s one of the best — him and Suh are two of the best I’ve been around in terms of using the week to take care of their bodies to prepare.

Burke added: “He knows how old he is but he knows what he’s done throughout his career to prepare and put him in this position, and I think he continues to do that. I have utmost faith in his preparation during the week to get himself ready to play however many snaps we ask him to play. If I really saw a decline, or whoever saw a decline in his play, then we’d address that.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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