Defensive reserves step up with Dolphins starters ailing
DAVIE, Fla. -- Two Pro Bowlers were out. So was a guy who just got a big contract extension and one who had two interceptions in the season opener.
No problem. There was still plenty of D on the Dolphins.
Despite being without two key players for the entire game and two for the second half, Miami still defeated Atlanta 27-23 on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. The Falcons, who had 377 yards of total offense, were held just under their averages coming in of points and yards.
"Guys stepped up," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.
They might still need to do that. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, the most decorated Miami player who sat out the second half with a left knee injury, will miss next Monday's game at New Orleans.
Other starters hurt Sunday were former Pro Bowl defensive end Paul Soliai (knee) and cornerback Dmitri Patterson (ankle), who had two interceptions in the Sept. 8 opener at Cleveland. Both missed the entire game. Also out in the second half was linebacker Koa Misi, who got a four-year, $17 million contract extension the day before the Cleveland game.
While Philbin wouldn't acknowledge any specific injuries, he did say it's an advantage the Dolphins play this week until Monday.
"I would have to think so," Philbin said. "It gives us an extra 38 hours. If my math is bad, 32."
Actually, it will be 31 1/2 , compared to a Sunday 1 p.m. EDT kickoff. But that's close enough.
Even if the Dolphins are still missing guys on defense, it was encouraging what they were able to do against the Falcons with players out. Dion Jordan and Derrick Shelby were solid filling in for the missing defensive linemen. Nolan Carroll replaced Patterson and Jason Trusnik was among those who stepped in for Misi.
"You never worry about players that aren't playing," said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. "I was really pleased at the number of guys that we had step up."
One thing that was lacking for the Dolphins was sacks. After coming in with nine in their first two games, they didn't get a single one. But they made up for not getting to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan with grit on defense.
"Dion was making great plays," defensive end Olivier Vernon said of the rookie. "Linebackers were making the right calls."
Still, it might be tough to not have Wake against the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees. Wake was fourth in the NFL last season with 15 sacks and had 2.5 in Miami's first two games, putting him ahead of that pace.
"You just know everybody is going to give their best effort," cornerback Brent Grimes said of going the second half Sunday without Wake and outscoring the Falcons 17-10. "You never want anybody to go down, but you know it's bound to happen in this game. You have to have people step up and we did that. Everybody was talking on the sideline. We were all picking guys up, telling each other to keep it going. We made a bunch of stops when we had to."
The Dolphins did allow eight points above the 15.0 they had given up in their first two games, but Atlanta provided the most potent offensive team they've seen. And the Falcons were held just below their average coming in of 24.0.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe led Miami with 10 total tackles. Safety Reshad Jones was right behind with seven and Carroll had six in his replacement role.
"Those 46 guys dress," Philbin said. "Every team deals with (injuries) in the course of an NFL season. Those guys have to be ready. You never when their jersey number will be called upon."
Sometimes a Pro Bowler is one needing to be replaced. But the Dolphins were able to do that with success Sunday.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson