Armando Salguero

A nightmare matchup for the Miami Dolphins: Larry Fitzgerald in the slot

Second-year cornerback Bobby McCain is expected to spend a lot of time Sunday matched up against Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Second-year cornerback Bobby McCain is expected to spend a lot of time Sunday matched up against Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. AP

The biggest mismatch the Miami Dolphins face Sunday when they play the Arizona Cardinals? Wait, stop ...

The biggest mismatch the Miami Dolphins may face all season and remember they had backup offensive lineman playing against Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald a few weeks ago?

Larry Fitzgerald against the Dolphins nickel cornerback.

So 6-3 and 218 pound Larry Fitzgerald against Miami’s much smaller nickel cornerback, whoever that will be on Sunday.

Larry Fitzgerald, who’s had three 100-catch and seven 1,000-yard seasons, against Miami’s third best cornerback.

Larry Fitzgerald, one of just 10 players in NFL history with over 13,000 career receiving yards, against a guy on his first contract.

Folks, this is troubling because Fitzgerald poses many issues for the Dolphins.

“Lots of problems,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph admitted Thursday. “He’s a big man and he plays the slot position. And obviously, most of your nickels (slot corners) are smaller, quicker guys. He’s going to be matched up on Bobby. That’s a big man versus a smaller man.”

Joseph is saying the Dolphins intend to put second-year cornerback Bobby McCain, who is listed at 5-11 but everyone knows is just as close to 5-10, against Fitzgerald.

“That’s an issue in the run and pass game because he’s blocking our nickel,” Joseph said. “He has great hands. If the ball is close he’s going to catch it. He’s blocking defensive ends. So the run game goes through him.”

Are you getting a feeling of dread here?

I was listening to Joseph speak and was wondering why know you’re stepping into a trap and do it anyway?

Why give up and simply trot McCain, who has been sometimes good, sometimes not good this season, against a likely future Hall of Fame player? Why not put a bigger man against Fitzgerald?

Why not put Miami’s best cornerback on Fitzgerald?

“I wish we could do that ... We’ve got Michael Thomas who can do that job so that’s a thought I’ll share,” Joseph said. “You’re asking me game plan questions. But that’s a thought. But you can’t just take a guy and say, ‘You’re a nickel this week.’ It’s a serious role and it takes time to learn.”

Yeah, this sounds bad.

And so here is where I ask why not consider promoting Bene’ Benwikere from the practice squad? He is a 6-foot corner who played 27 NFL games for the Carolina Panthers the past four years. You’ve got Xavien Howard practicing the past three weeks and no one is suggesting he should, you know, get on the field.

Why not one of those guys?

Well, Joseph said Benwikere’s opportunity to prove he deserves a chance to play comes strictly in practice and, he said in not so many words, Benwikere hasn’t proven himself in practice.

As to Xavien Howard ...

Gase this week and Joseph on Thursday said they are not willing to push Howard to play unless the rookie feels he’s ready. Howard has had two knee surgeries in the past six months and the team has decided it will not push him at all to get back on the field. It will be strictly Howard’s call.

And based on what Howard told reporters this week, he’s not ready to play yet.

(Interesting that the player is apparently fully in charge of whether he plays or not and he’s not wanting to play yet.)

So perhaps outside of 5-11 Michael Thomas moving in there and matching up with Fitzgerald, the Dolphins don’t seem to believe they have any other options.

What could go wrong?

“You usually don’t have guys that size inside because most of your nickel players are small,” Gase said of Fitzgerald. “You have to account for .. He understands leverage. He understands football. He’s played long enough and seen enough things to where, him moving inside, he knows how to beat almost everything. He knows how to get open on the route that they have called for him. He’s almost going to use what you call against you. And that’s what makes him different than probably a lot of other slot players.”

Great. Just great.

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