There is no denying the fact that the NFL has become more of a passing league, and the Miami Dolphins are in the middle of a quarterback gauntlet. Monday night’s game at New Orleans is the latest challenge.
Starting in Week 2 at the Indianapolis Colts, Miami’s secondary was tasked with trying to stop three of the league’s elite passers in successive weeks – Indy’s Andrew Luck, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan last week and Drew Brees of the Saints this week. So far the defensive backs are 2-for-2 and have come up with five interceptions while helping lead the Dolphins to a 3-0 record.
“I think that the secondary has played solid, although there were times (Sunday) where I thought we could have done things a lot better,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “The good news was that was a heck of an offensive team that we were able to beat (Sunday), not an offensive team, just a heck of a team with one of the premier quarterbacks in the league, a proven guy.
“We were able to contain them for the most part in the throwing game. They didn’t have any real big explosive passes against us, which is something characteristic of what they do. They’re a great screen team and that was a big emphasis for us a week ago (at Indianapolis) and we were able to control the screen game. A number of groups contributed that way but the DB’s are playing solid, but I think we have not gotten close to as good as we can play.”
With some of the personnel changes in the offseason, it was to be expected that the secondary would need a little time to get on the same page. The two starting safeties –
Last season, Jones was on the verge of making his first Pro Bowl with a strong finish as he led the Dolphins with four interceptions while racking up 94 tackles (73 solo), a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He is tied for the second on the team right now with 22 tackles (19 solo) and has a half a sack and one pass breakup. Clemons has nine tackles (seven solo) and three passes defensed and Jones agrees with Grimes that the group is not where it wants to be in terms of performance. Facing quarterbacks the caliber of Brees, Ryan and Luck only motivates them more.
“I think all of the guys back there are competitors and they go out and fight,” Jones said. “But when you’ve got this big of a challenge ahead of you it comes to your attention and amps you up a little bit more and gets you more fired up to play.”
Jones and Clemons are the leaders of the secondary and have to communicate to the corners what they see pre-snap. They have to get everyone properly aligned, as does Wilson whenever he’s not playing the nickel corner and lines up at safety.
When the opposing offense spreads out the defense by going with five wide receivers or using four but putting the two on the end out wide and close to the sideline, that makes it even tougher on the boundary corners. So the safeties either have to be able talk loud or make use of hand signals and Jones, Clemons and Wilson all have managed that responsibility well.
“They all speak and they all know the defense well,” Grimes said. “They always say safeties are like the quarterback of the defense so all of them, they all know the defense well and they all are confident with their checks and calls. So that’s always a positive because that’s who you’re looking back to. You can’t have everybody saying things. You usually have the safety saying it and then you’re confident you know he’s putting you in the right place.”
Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo was credited by Grimes and Jones for getting the secondary prepared and relaying the play calls being made by Coyle up in the press box during games. He is on the sideline and can best communicate what Coyle us seeing from above while also communicating to Coyle what his players are seeing out on the field.
This is Grimes’ first season working with Anarumo, while Jones, Clemons, Carroll, Wilson and even Patterson worked with him last year. One area that Anarumo, Coyle and Head Coach Joe Philbin emphasized during the offseason and training camp was takeaways, and this group already has half as many interceptions through three games as last year’s managed the entire season.
“Coach Philbin goes into practice and he tells us that on the defensive side of the ball, and mostly on the back end, we need to generate more takeaways and we practice it everyday,” Jones said. “We know the percentage of winning and losing is predicated on the turnover ratio, so we have it in our mind to make the plays that come to us. Creating turnovers is contagious and everybody is getting their hands on balls and making some good plays so I think we just need to keep it going.”
As a group, these defensive backs would like nothing more than to keep it going Monday night inside the loud Mercedes-Benz Superdome and quiet the Who Dat Nation in the process.