Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ shaky pass defense must now brace for some of league’s top QBs

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, shown in a preseason game against the Dolphins last year, is expected to return from a clavicle injury Sunday in Miami.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, shown in a preseason game against the Dolphins last year, is expected to return from a clavicle injury Sunday in Miami. AP

Even with all the peaks and valleys in this rollercoaster of a season, the Dolphins have been fortunate that they’ve largely faced quarterbacks who are inexperienced, journeymen or have failed to fulfill expectations.

In Miami’s first nine games, all but New England’s Tom Brady would fit into that category.

That’s about to change.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he expects Tony Romo to play Sunday at Miami after missing seven games with a clavicle injury.

That means the Dolphins, over the final seven weeks, will face quarterbacks who have accounted for seven Super Bowl victories and 25 Pro Bowl appearances.

That’s worrisome for a Dolphins defense that’s not only dealing with injuries, but also ranks just 20th in pass defense and has allowed a 96.3 opponent passer rating (which ranks 23rd, or 10th-worst).

Here’s another way of looking at it: Excluding Brady’s 190-55 career record, the quarterbacks the Dolphins faced so far in their eight other games have a career record of 93-140. That twice counts the record of Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, who beat Miami twice.

Excluding Brady’s record, the other quarterbacks that Miami is expected to play the rest of the season (Romo, the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, the Giants’ Eli Manning, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck) have a career record of 437-338.

Two important caveats:

▪ Romo and Luck might be rusty when they play the Dolphins. Sunday would be Romo’s first game since Sept. 20 against Philadelphia.

Luck is expected to miss two to six weeks with a lacerated kidney. If he’s out the full six, he would return Dec. 27 at Miami.

▪ Though Rivers (94-68) and Flacco (84-52) have excellent career records, their teams are both 2-7.

But all seven of Baltimore’s losses have been by eight points or fewer, and Flacco is 4-0 against the Dolphins in his career, with a 105.6 passer rating.

Also, Rivers is eighth in the league with a 100.7 passer rating this season.

Romo’s value to the Cowboys, which was already obvious, was reaffirmed in his absence, when Dallas lost seven games started by Brandon Weeden (three) and Matt Cassel (four).

Dallas is 15-3 in the past 27 games that Romo has started, 0-9 in the others. What’s more, Romo has 68 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions over his past 32 starts.

“We’ll see what kind of flow he’s in, how he feels, but absolutely he can hurt you,” Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell said. “He can make those throws, he can work in the pocket, he can get out of the pocket, he’s got weapons to go to” — including receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

Already without their most productive pass-rusher (Cam Wake) because of a season-ending Achilles’ injury, the Dolphins also are dealing with injuries at linebacker (Jelani Jenkins’ ankle) and cornerback (Brice McCain’s sprained knee).

Campbell said both players are “day to day” and “we think [McCain] will be OK.”

In their absence, young players filled in capably during Miami’s 20-19 win Sunday at Philadelphia.

With Brent Grimes sidelined by food poisoning, rookie cornerback Bobby McCain played 95 of Miami’s 96 defensive snaps. He was going to play a lot regardless but ended up playing more than any Dolphins defensive player except safety Reshad Jones.

“Bobby did some really good things,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of things he’s got to clean up.”

Among Miami’s other cornerbacks, Jamar Taylor logged 79 snaps, Brice McCain 43 before his injury, rookie Tony Lippett 22 and Zack Bowman 21.

With Jenkins limited to 17 snaps at linebacker, undrafted rookie Neville Hewitt played 65 snaps after logging 40 combined over the first eight weeks.

“Certainly, it wasn’t perfect [for Hewitt],” Campbell said. “But the game didn’t look too big for him. He gave everything he had. He threw up three times, which was great.”

Undrafted rookie linebacker Mike Hull played the first 13 defensive snaps of his career, and another undrafted rookie linebacker (Zach Vigil) played five snaps and blocked a punt on special teams.

PRAISE FOR SUH

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s eight tackles (including three for loss) Sunday were his most as a Dolphin, and he had a sack for the second week in a row, giving him four.

Why is he playing better?

“He’s a little more comfortable,” Campbell said. “He’s got a feel of what we’re trying to do defensively. When we lost Cam Wake, he knew he needed to step up and fill a bigger role.”

▪ Jarvis Landry now has 13 rushing attempts, second-most ever by a Dolphins wide receiver. Nat Moore had 14 in 1977.

Landry’s 101 rushing yards are second-most ever by a Dolphins receiver, behind Paul Warfield’s 115 in 1971.

Barry Jackson: 305-376-3491, @flasportsbuzz

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