Trouble Brewing: Dolphins' Secondary Concerns

The New England Patriots have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Miami Dolphins, they don't have a lot of experience available to defend against it.

What will the Dolphins get when they elect to start three rookie defensive backs against the NFL's second-best passing attack featuring confident superstar quarterback Tom Brady, who seems completely over his knee injury - both mentally and physically - that cost him most of the 2008 season?


Certainly, Brady will test the Dolphins' rookie trio of Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and Chris Clemons, who recently took the starting job away from expensive offseason free agent Gibril Wilson.

Last week, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez found his rhythm in the second half, at one point completing nine passes in a row, including two touchdown passes, in a 30-25 loss to Miami.

Brady, meanwhile, is on fire. Over his last two games in which the Patriots outscored the Titans and Bucs 94-7, Brady completed 52 of 66 for 688 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Dolphins are ranked 21st in pass defense, have allowed 17 pass plays of 25 yards or more and nine touchdown passes. Brady is tied for fourth in the NFL with 15 touchdowns (to go with only four interceptions), one behind Drew, Brees, Brett Favre and Matt Schaub. Brady, who is 9-5 against the Dolphins, has the highest touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history for quarterbacks with at least 2,000 attempts.

While the Dolphins drafted the 6-foot-3 Smith to guard the taller receivers in the AFC East, he struggled against New York's Braylon Edwards, allowing a 19-yard touchdown and a 25-yard completion last week. Edwards also had a 34-yard touchdown in the first meeting. Smith now has to deal with the 6-4 Randy Moss, who is in the top 10 among NFL receivers with 43 catches for 565 yards. Smith is still looking for his first NFL interception, while Davis had a pick six against Trent Edwards and the Bills.

"Me and Vontae got exposed early. Now (rookie safety Clemons) is getting his shot. We'll see how he reacts," Smith said. "Going against Tom Brady, Moss and (Wes) Welker, obviously these guys are capable of scoring any time on a high-powered offense like that. Definitely, got to be on your p's and q's.

"They're going at full speed right now. Just turn on the tape and he's just tossing the ball around scoring at will so we definitely have to make sure we bring it this week."

Welker, the slot receiver, is clearly over the early season knee injury that knocked him out of two games. In his last two games, he has 20 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Welker has tormented his former team by averaging seven catches for 90.5 yards in four games, his best average against any NFL team.

"We've got to get him on the ground," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said while raving about Welker's yards-after-catch over the past two games.

"(Davis and Smith) played 81 plays apiece so when you look at the technique in those 81 plays I'm talking about single digits (technique errors) between the two of them but enough that we've got to clean them up. Vontae was very physical during the game. The guy makes tackles and that's what he does.

"Sean plays the side where some of these outside perimeter runs, the take-on things happen and we've just got to continue to work on them."

After watching the way opposing tight ends have torched Miami's soft middle in the first half of the season, Brady will no doubt target Clemons and Wilson and throw to his tight ends, Ben Watson and Chris Baker, down the seams. Watson is tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches.

"Smith and Davis looked to me like they had a real good competition in the preseason, I thought both of them played well, and they both have kind of alternated here until Will Allen went out, and now they're both in there, and they're both big, big guys, quality players," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Clemons brings a lot of speed to the field, both in the kicking game and defensively. ... He certainly brings, as Smith and Davis do, a level of speed and athleticism. To any defense he would add that."

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