Dolphins Secondary Has Steelers' Attention

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes leads an opportunistic group.

Typically when opposing offensive coordinators turn on the film projector in preparation for the Miami Dolphins, they focus on the front seven. But ask Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger what catches his eye and he’ll tell you it’s the secondary.

Sixteen interceptions through 12 games, which is six more than Miami had all of last season, will get anyone’s attention. When you take into account the number of passes the Dolphins’ defensive backs have broken up (43), their number of tackles (246) and the fact that they have only allowed one touchdown reception be a wide receiver, then Roethlisberger’s concern begins to make more sense.

“They’re really good,” said Roethlisberger, who has won two Super Bowls with the Steelers. “I think people talk a lot about the front seven and those kinds of things but I look at that secondary like they’re making a lot of plays and they’re not getting beat.”

Veteran cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson have combined for half of the secondary’s interceptions with four apiece and Patterson has only played in five games due to a nagging groin injury. Grimes and cornerback Nolan Carroll, who has seven starts, have accounted for 24 of the 43 pass breakups with Grimes leading the way with 14.

Grimes and Patterson both are officially listed at 5-foot-10, as is rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor. Fellow rookie cornerback Will Davis and safety Jimmy Wilson are 5-11 and Carroll is the tallest at 6-1. Both safeties, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons, also are 6-1, so conventional wisdom might point to this unit having trouble with big receivers, but Grimes, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 with the Atlanta Falcons, has been able to counter that aspect with his jumping ability.

“You look at the size of the corners and most people are thinking they can go after him because he’s not real big,” Roethlisberger said. “But he makes a lot of plays and it’s really impressive.”

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has truly welcomed the addition of Grimes to his unit and the development of both Patterson and Carroll. But it’s Grimes that has been steady throughout the season and has established himself as one of the elite corners in the AFC by shutting down the opposition’s top receiver game in and game out.

Three times this season he has made game-ending or game-clinching plays, starting with his interception in the end zone of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in front of Reggie Wayne late in Miami’s 24-20 road win in Week 2. He also returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals on Halloween to put the Dolphins ahead, 17-3, in a game they won in overtime, 22-20.

Grimes knocked down Philip Rivers’ final desperation pass in the end zone in a 20-16 win over the San Diego Chargers on November 17th and picked off Jets quarterback Matt Simms in the fourth quarter of last week’s 23-3 victory at MetLife Stadium. It hasn’t mattered who the receiver lining up across from Grimes is because he has adapted regardless of size, speed or route running ability.

“He’s playing exceptional. He really does a great job in coverage, and a lot of times unless you’re really just isolating on him you don’t realize how good of a job he is doing on some of these receivers that he’s matching up with,” Coyle said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete, and he has incredible eye-hand coordination, athleticism, and I think he sleeps with the football. Really, as soon as he walks out on the practice field, you see him every day and he’s got a ball in his hands during stretch. He’s flipping it around. He’s catching it. He’s kicking it. He’s a ball of energy. He’s got great ball skills. He makes some catches he makes look so easy in practice at times. He’s a terrific athlete.”

Of course, regardless of the praise coming from his defensive coordinator or from opposing quarterbacks, Grimes primarily measures himself by wins and losses and not statistics. As much of an energy source as he is on the field, Grimes remains soft-spoken and humble off of it, which is wearing off on the younger corners.

This group of defensive backs is a close one that takes pride in the overall play of the unit while also being sure to praise each other. The work they have put in since training camp has translated to the field and Grimes is quick to shift the attention way from him to the group.

“We’re a real cool and tight group and we all want to play for each other and we all want to make plays,” Grimes said. “So everybody’s out there and has got each other’s back, the whole secondary. You’ll see just when anybody makes a play one of us might run across the field to say something to them because everybody’s real tight-knit and just playing for each other and that’s what it’s all about out there.”
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