CARLSBAD, Calif. -- While the Los Angeles Rams are working toward giving rookie quarterback Jared Goff his first NFL start on Sunday, their opponents -- staying on the west coast for a week -- are planning to do without their top rookie cornerback for at least another week.
The Miami Dolphins’ plans for Sunday’s game, largely drawn up over the past two days, do not include Xavien Howard starting or playing. Howard has not played since Sept. 29. He suffered his second knee injury in three months in practice the first week of October and had his second arthroscopic surgery in three months on Oct. 7.
So Howard has missed five games and it has been nearly six weeks since his surgery. It was originally believed Howard would take 3-6 weeks to recover from this surgery before he could return to activity.
But here’s the thing ... Even if Howard were able to begin practicing this week, even today as the Dolphins start their preparations for the Rams game with on-field work, he is not going to be thrust into a game with only a few days of practice after six weeks of being away from football activity.
Indeed, even if Howard begins to practice lightly this week, his status will not be certain for the Dolphins next game -- on Nov. 27 when Miami faces the San Francisco 49’ers. Coaches would have to see Howard practicing hard and well before letting him play again.
So it is looking more likely the Dolphins are hoping Howard can return to his starting role for what the team hopes is a December-January drive at the playoffs.
As of Wednesday morning, the Dolphins have not ruled out getting veteran cornerback Chris Culliver back for Sunday. He has been practicing for several weeks since his window to come off the physically unable to perform list opened. Culliver was added to the roster and can play anytime coaches deem him ready.
But Culliver simply hasn’t been good enough in practice to earn a spot on the game-day list of active players. Culliver has not regained his explosiveness. He apparently isn’t totally familiar with the system. (How could he be, he’s been practicing in it less than three weeks)?
The point is Culliver needs to show a significant jump in practice performance to earn a spot on the active game-day roster.
Obviously the Dolphins could use help in their secondary. Slot cornerback Bobby McCain had a terrible game against the Chargers and the Dolphins yielded 326 passing yards against quarterback Phillip Rivers.
But while the Dolphins’ need for a veteran cornerback who can potentially start is obvious, it is not acute. Byron Maxwell played well against San Diego and Tony Lippett has improved and is coming off a productive game. The Dolphins also had four interceptions of Rivers.
McCain, meanwhile, is a slot corner and it’s unlikely Culliver would be asked to play there.
It seems if or when Culliver can return, he would initially serve more as a backup -- insurance against injury down the road.
Sunday’s game against the Rams will prove interesting for the Dolphins defense as a whole and the secondary in particular. Rams coach Jeff Fisher this week announced a quarterback change from veteran Case Kenenum to Goff.
“It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said of what moved him to make the change. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”
It will be interesting how the Dolphins will react to the idea of being the first team to face Goff, the first pick in the 2016 draft. My guess is players will be instructed -- that’s right, I said instructed -- to show respect for the idea of Goff making his first start regardless of whether they think he’ll be overmatched or not.
Previous starter Keenum was not the reason the Rams have lost four of the past five games but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times behind leaky protection -- which makes the Rams 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.
Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. Indeed, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.
Yeah, this might have been a great game for Xavien Howard and Chris Culliver to get their feet wet again. It won’t be that for Howard.