Reshad Jones’ greatest strength is also his biggest liability.
Jones has an instinctive feel for where the football is going, allowing him to make plays others wouldn’t dream of trying. And yes, sometimes those plays occur outside of the scheme.
Freelancing is too strong of a word, as defensive coordinator Matt Burke pointed out, but it’s not completely off-base. Fair to say that Jones does not always follow the letter of the Dolphins’ law.
That initiative is celebrated when it results in a tackle for loss or a turnover.
Not so much, however, when it results in a 73-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller, with a scorched Bobby McCain wildly gesticulating at Jones over an apparent blown assignment.
That’s what happened the last time the Dolphins played a game, out in Houston a week ago Thursday.
That lowlight not only kept the Texans comfortably ahead, but it illustrated all that has gone wrong with the Dolphins’ defense the last month.
“They’ve played football for us and they’ve played together and they should be on the same page and communicating better on that, absolutely,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke acknowledged in the game’s aftermath.
“Things start going bad and everyone is feeling that, and everyone wants to turn it,” he continued. “They’re competitive players. No one wants to be doing what we were doing Thursday night. I think sometimes that they press to make plays and they try to kind of go a little bit out of the framework. …. I don’t think they’re just saying ‘Screw this, I’m going to play whatever I want to play.’ I think sometimes, we’re pressing to make plays, especially once that gets rolling a little bit. We have to play the calls.”
That alone should fix many of the Dolphins’ issues on defense. Miami has never been worse on that side of the ball in Jones’ nine years in the league.
And if the Dolphins get torched by the Jets this week, there might be no fixing what’s wrong until what would be a near-certain roster overhaul this offseason.
Could Jones be at risk? According to Spotrac, the Dolphins have until March 16 to make a decision on whether to keep him for 2019. That’s when $11.1 million in salary because of fully guaranteed.
Jones’ play the season’s final eight games will probably dictate his future in Miami.
He’s been OK so far this year, but not up to his high standards. An important qualifier: Jones has been playing through a partially torn labrum, and the harness he wears on his right shoulder is surely limiting his effectiveness.
Still, he had some hiccups even before the injury.
Pro Football Focus ranks him 59th out of 87 qualifying safeties, with Jones’ run defense weighing down his grade. The film-breakdown website has found that Jones is having the worst year of his career in that category. Plus he has missed eight tackles in six games after missing 12 all of last year.
It’s not hard to see, then, why the Dolphins rank 29th against the run, allowing 143.1 yards per game.
“People are out of their gaps, miscommunication,” Jones said. “It’s collective things that’s going to take everybody on the defense — the coaching staff, everybody — coming together to get it fixed.”
But that’s just part of Jones’ problem.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 11 of 15 passes thrown in his coverage area for 161 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. That adds up to passer rating of 91.9 when teams target Jones.
The Dolphins safeties in general have been problematic. T.J. McDonald’s 11 missed tackles are tied for the most in the NFL at his position.
There is good news: The Jets seem to bring out the best in the Jones. He has more solo tackles (81), tackles for loss (6) and wins (7) against New York in his career than any other franchise. He also has forced a fumbled and broken up six passes in those games.
“There’s no time to hit the panic button right now,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of football left ahead of us.”