The Miami Dolphins came into Indianapolis Sunday riding a three-game winning streak. Now they are left to pick up the pieces after rookie quarterback Andrew Luck shredded the Dolphins for 433 passing yards, a new rookie record.
Miami had been tempting fate for the first half of the season, giving up more passing yardage than all but a handful of teams in the NFL but boasting one of the best scoring defenses in the league thanks to its ability to stop opponents on third down. That trend was reversed on Sunday, as the Colts converted 13 of 19 third-down opportunities en route to a 23-20 win.
"When you have the No. 1 defense on third down, and you're used to getting a couple three-and-outs, used to getting not real long drives, because teams aren't converting on third down, when a team converts 68 percent of the time, it's a different feeling out there," Miami coach Joe Philbin said Sunday. "Giving up 494 yards of offense isn't a real good performance."
What is abundantly clear after Sunday is that Miami's defensive secondary is miles behind the rest of the team. Luck averaged 9.0 yards per attempt, almost a full yard better than the NFL-leading Denver Broncos' average (8.2 yards per attempt).
Against Miami, Luck had no trouble finding the open receiver, completing 63% of his 48 pass attempts. CB Sean Smith was routinely abused by Luck and WR Reggie Wayne.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has been praised for improving the team's offense over the offseason, but the secondary, comprised entirely of Ireland's acquisitions, is a work in progress at best.
Opposing offenses have figured this out. Teams attempt more passes against the Dolphins than any other defense in the NFL. If you keep throwing against Miami, eventually good things will happen.
The Dolphins have allowed 300 or more passing yards in three games this season (and 295 yards in another). Miami's weak passing defense is not a new phenomenon. In Week 1 of the 2011 season, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots threw 516 yards against Miami.
The secondary is not entirely to blame, though. Luck was rarely pressured by the Dolphins' front four on Sunday, getting plenty of time to let his receivers get open. "We have to pressure their quarterback," Dolphins DT Randy Starks said after the game. "Someone has to do it, and we didn't do it."
Relief may not come soon, unless the Dolphins secondary can instantly become better pass defenders. A tweak in the defensive scheme could help some. Reggie Wayne and the Colts receiving corps were rarely jammed at the line of scrimmage, and they used that cushion from the Dolphins' defensive backs to their advantage.
But the biggest boost possible would come from player acquisitions, meaning Dolphins fans may have to wait until the 2013 season to see a Dolphins defense that can stop opposing quarterbacks with any regularity.