On Sunday, the world finally saw what the Dolphins’ defense could do when at full strength: four turnovers, four sacks and a 37-0 shutout of the Chargers.
Problem is, we will never see that exact Dolphins defense any time soon.
Michael Thomas, a versatile safety who has played both nickel and dime for the Dolphins, is lost for the season with a significant chest injury and was placed on injured reserve Monday night.
Thomas was injured in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win against the Chargers and did not return. He had a tackle on defense and two on special teams, playing 14 defensive snaps in Miami’s first shutout in eight years.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“This time last year, I was just praying for an opportunity to play on Sundays,” Thomas wrote in an Instagram post. “Thank you #phins and everyone else for your prayers and for the support. Please believe I will come back stronger than ever!!! #PhinsUp.”
The organization did not provide any information about the injury in the press box Sunday. However, the injury is serious enough to likely require surgery, followed by a lengthy recovery. With Thomas gone, the Dolphins will presumably rely on either Jamar Taylor or Will Davis to fill his role on passing downs.
The medical news was better for Lamar Miller, the Dolphins running back who sustained an AC joint sprain — more commonly known as a separated shoulder — against the Chargers. Miller is considered day to day, but there’s a good chance he will play Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the Miami Herald has learned.
Miller has started every game this year and is the team’s leading rusher at 518 yards on 106 carries (a 4.9 yards-per-rush average). With Knowshon Moreno already lost for the season, the Dolphins are perilously thin at the position. The other three running backs who have played for the Dolphins this year have collectively averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor provided no insight into Miller’s availability when he met with reporters Monday. But Lazor did not seem overly concerned about the prospect of playing without Miller, if that is the case.
Should the third-year back miss Sunday’s game in Detroit, the Dolphins would start either Daniel Thomas or Damien Williams, who finished Sunday’s game after Miller was injured.
“If Lamar needs [rest] and he comes out, very infrequently do I start calling the game differently,” Lazor said. “Sometimes if it is long-term, we would have to think about it and consider what they do best because I think that’s what the smart thing is — to do what guys do best. For the most part, we don’t have a million different runs. For the most part, they all have been working out all the runs that we do well.
“I think we’ll be able to trust all of them.”
Trust has clearly improved within the Dolphins’ defense, which has allowed just 27 points in the team’s three-game winning streak.
There has long been belief around the organization defense has elite talent. And now, the statistics are proving that to be true.
At the midway point of the season, the Dolphins rank third leaguewide in both total defense (304.6 yards per game) and points allowed (18.9). And the defense ranks first in yards per play (4.7) — the statistic many believe most accurately reflects a defense’s effectiveness.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who was part of two previous shutouts as an assistant (in 2006 and 2008, both with the Bengals), acknowledged he would love to have the league’s No.1 statistical defense at the end of the year — but that winning makes any other goal a distant second.
Once beleaguered, Coyle now has his defense playing better than ever. September’s loss to Kansas City, and the private but very real player concerns about his coaching decisions that came with it, seems long ago.
“I just think we’ve got a really good chemistry right now,” Coyle said. “There is a great trust level between the players and coaches. I think they believe in what we’re doing schematically. When they see it work as it did a number of times [Sunday], it just increases that confidence and that faith in one another.”
After an off day Monday, Dolphins players are back at practice Tuesday. Coach Joe Philbin, however, will not be with the team.
Late Monday, he returned home to Massachusetts, where his family is grieving the death of his father, Paul. Philbin will miss two practices, and will return to South Florida on Wednesday night.
“I’m absolutely 100 percent confident in that things will go smoothly, and it’s probably better that I’m not around,” he joked.
Philbin added: “As I told the staff, we’re a better team today than we were October1, than we were in September. The challenge every week is to find ways to improve and get better. I said to the staff, we can’t anticipate we’re going to shut out our next eight opponents. That’s not real life in the National Football League. It’s hard to average 37 points a game in the NFL over an eight-game stretch. We’re going to have to find new ways to win and just keep improving and keep getting better.”
▪ With Thomas out with a significant chest injury, the Dolphins are expected to add Jordan Kovacs to the roster off the practice squad of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.