Miami Dolphins

With Howard iffy against Patriots, this stat proves how indispensable he is to Dolphins

It’s official: 2018 will forever be known as the Dolphins’ season from injury hell.

The latest body blow: the Dolphins’ best player might miss their biggest game of the year.

Star cornerback Xavien Howard sat out Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, and Dolphins coach Adam Gase did not at all sound optimistic about Howard’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Which, by the way, is basically a must-win if Miami has any realistic hopes to make the playoffs.

“It’s going to be week to week,” Gase said of Howard. “We’re going to see how it goes the rest of the week. I’ll probably know more toward the end of the week whether he’s got a shot or not.”

Gase would not rule out surgery, but added that he expects Howard back at some point this season.

The third-year defender got hurt in the most ironic way possible: on the second of his two interceptions Sunday.

Those picks gave Howard a league-leading seven for the season and helped him win AFC defensive player of the week honors.

The NFL made the announcement Wednesday — just hours before Gase delivered the latest bit of brutal Dolphins news. Gase’s team has lost 10 players to season-ending injuries, plus key players Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake were forced to sit out multiple games with their own issues.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” one Dolphins player told the Miami Herald. “Wish I could say something good about it. It just sucks.”

But this could be the most damaging yet.

He basically is their entire defense. Howard has more than a third of the Dolphins’ 19 interceptions and owns the league’s best passer rating against, according to Pro Football Focus (62.6).

But this stat is even more telling:

When quarterbacks have targeted any Dolphins defender not named Howard this year, they have lit Miami up: completing 68.5 percent of their passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. Together, that adds up to passer rating of 96.9.

“You’ve got a guy that if you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate, he’s not just going to knock it down,” Gase said. “He’s going to pick it off. He’s one of best players, if not our best player on that side of the ball.”

Gase added that if Howard cannot play, the Dolphins have no one player who can replace him, but will try to by committee.

Granted, all is not lost — yet.

There was genuine optimism among players who had spoken to Howard that he would be able to go this week, but they prepared Wednesday as though he would not be available.

Bobby McCain and Torry McTyer both got work on the boundary during practice, and Minkah Fitzpatrick would presumably play corner exclusively against Tom Brady and the Patriots.

“First off, he should be fine,” McCain said. “He’s having a great year. With him taking a day off, you see a lot of things. We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different spots. Hopefully we can have him back at the end of the week and he can come along and feel a little better. It’s not really challenging. You’ve just got to step up and finish the week out at practice. Hopefully we can get him back Thursday or Friday.”

The Dolphins have been impressed by McTyer in Year 2, and his quickness could help neutralize Josh Gordon, New England’s speedster. McTyer said being a starting corner has long been a goal, and has been better about trusting his ability when he’s been on the field.

“When you get thrown into the fire, you learn quick,” McCain said. “I was one, a rookie that got thrown into the fire. You learn fast. You learn the game fast. It can be good or bad for some people. You can take it as a positive. At the end of the day, it’s football. It’s what you want to do.”

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