Armando Salguero

Cutler, Parker combo bombs Eagles, but Dolphins defense has coverage problems

Eagles receiver Torrey Smith scores as Dolphins safety Reshad Jones yells at cornerback Byron Maxwell about the coverage.
Eagles receiver Torrey Smith scores as Dolphins safety Reshad Jones yells at cornerback Byron Maxwell about the coverage. AP

Two years ago, when Adam Gase and Jay Cutler worked together in Chicago, Gase — then the Bears’ offensive coordinator — was asked (ordered) to protect the football and milk the game clock because the Chicago defense was decimated by injuries and couldn’t really stop anyone.

So it was Gase’s job, in part, to protect the defense by holding on to the football and shortening the game to keep the Bears defense off the field and give the team a greater chance to win.

That definitely wasn’t going to be the strategy for the Miami reunion of Gase and Cutler.

With the Dolphins’ talented (they think stacked) defense, Gase figured he could unleash all of Cutler’s abilities and score points fast and in bunches.

Well, Thursday’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field suggested maybe that proposed approach might need reconsideration.

It’s not that Cutler, two years older and only two weeks on Gase’s Dolphins, isn’t up to the task. The quarterback seems all-in. He seems ready to be a gunslinger if that’s what Gase wants from him.

The problem, based on what we saw Thursday night and two previous days of practices against the Eagles, is that the Miami defense — particularly the pass defense — has significant holes. And significant problems.

There were moments in this game in which Eagles receivers were running uncovered in the Dolphins secondary. There were moments the coverage busts were so blatant, they resulted in first downs or touchdowns.

One such moment came when Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz threw a 50-yard pass to Torrey Smith. Cornerback Byron Maxwell picked up Smith in coverage initially and eventually passed him off to safety Reshad Jones. Except Jones didn’t expect or want the coverage because he was apparently thinking some other coverage was in effect.

Miami Dolphins QB Jay Cutler talks about missing football while he was retired, his ex-teammate Alshon Jeffery and more.

So that was Jones yelling back at Maxwell as Smith scored.

And that was Jones still barking at Maxwell as the two made their way to the Miami bench after the score.

“We misexecuted,” Gase said.

It would be understandable if this was isolated. Things like this happen, particularly in the preseason. But this happened a lot during the week. And it continued to happen in the game as tight ends were left uncovered and other receivers were poorly covered. At one point, the issue with the Miami defense was so acute that the Eagles scored a touchdown after a six-play, 53-yard drive.

That drive by Philly reserves came against the Miami starting defense.

And the quarterback on that drive was third-team player Matt McGloin, playing for injured backup Nick Foles.

Bad.

The bright side is the Miami offense treated the Eagles as rudely as their defense was treated.

devante
Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker catches a pass over Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby during the first quarter on Thurs., Aug. 24, 2017, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. YONG KIM TNS

Cutler looked sharp, although he did fumble once. He completed 5 of his 8 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. The fumble, by the way, came when left tackle Laremy Tunsil simply whiffed on a block and allowed a defender to bury his helmet into Cutler’s kidneys.

“I feel like he’s in a pretty good rhythm right now,” Gase said of Cutler. “We just got to stay consistent. We don’t want the turnover. It was mine; it was a bad call on my part. It puts him in a bad spot.”

The intriguing thing about Cutler’s night is he wants to throw the bomb. He’s looking to the deep receiver when he can and isn’t afraid to go that way even when that receiver might be kind of, sort of covered.

Jarvis Landry meets with reporters after Thursday's joint practice with the Eagles.

The guy is either fearless or foolish — depending on the play — and maybe both.

(We’re saying fearless in this column because Cutler’s throws to covered or double-covered receivers didn’t get intercepted but indeed resulted in big Miami plays. I reserve the right to wonder if this is always a wise approach if he starts throwing a bunch of interceptions).

Cutler threw one such pass to DeVante Parker, who was blanketed by Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby. Parker seemingly tossed his Darby blanket aside and plucked the ball out of the air. Then he took off running for a 72-yard gain.

Cutler has already shown he likes to throw the ball to Parker. He threw a couple to the receiver last week, including a 31-yarder that was erased by a penalty, that suggested the two already have confidence if not chemistry in and with each other.

So the Dolphins offense with Cutler could be a nice mix of Jay Ajayi breaking tackles and Jay Cutler breaking the rules on throwing to covered receivers. Two-Jays!

That would make for very entertaining games — but only if the Dolphins secondary figures out which receivers to cover.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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