Eyebrows are being raised. Expectations are being lowered. Questions are being asked.
What in the world is wrong with Dan Marino?
It’s a question that wouldn’t be asked of many other quarterbacks with his statistics. After all, he is ranked fifth among quarterbacks in the American Football Conference, has completed 59% of his passes and has thrown 7 for touchdowns in 5 games, third best in the AFC.
But he has been intercepted 6 times, and his Miami Dolphins take the field today against the Raiders at the Coliseum with a 2-3 record.
This is Dan Marino we’re talking about--48-touchdown-passes-in-a-season Marino, double-coverage-be-damned Marino, get-rid-of-the-ball-before-the-defense-can-get-out-of-its-3-point-stance Marino.
So what gives?
For one thing, the offensive line. Center Dwight Stephenson, the Pro Bowl performer, is still recovering from a nerve injury he suffered in his knee last season and has yet to play. The result has been instability in the line, although Dolphin opponents have broken through for only 7 sacks.
“We’ve had to use a makeshift line and that’s been unsettling to a certain extent,” Miami Coach Don Shula said. “And we’ve been struggling as far as the running game goes. We’ve haven’t scored points the way we normally score.”
Opposing defenses also have posed problems. They have been geared to stopping Miami’s passing offense. They have long sought to take away the bomb from Marino, who in his second season in the league in 1984 threw 48 scoring passes. And now, finally, the strategy seems to be working.
“We still call a lot of deep patterns but we don’t hit it or the coverage dictates that we have to throw underneath,” Marino said. “It seems like we’re always stopping ourselves. We’ll miss a block, or there’ll be a penalty, a bad throw, misreading coverage, guy doesn’t get open, or something. Something happens.”
Marino also seems more conservative these days. He no longer bares his teeth at the sight of double coverage and fires away.
It would be apropos, however, if he were to jump-start his legend here. After all, this is where it all began.
Only the 27th pick and the sixth quarterback drafted in 1983, Marino was sitting on the bench in Miami’s third game that season, a Monday Night outing against the Raiders at the Coliseum. When his team fell hopelessly behind, Shula decided to see what he had. He put Marino in and the young quarterback drove his team into the end zone the first two times he tried.
The Dolphins still lost that night, but things were never the same in Miami. Of course the way the Raiders (2-3) have been playing lately, they may be just the tonic for what ails Marino.
The Raiders are 26th in the 28-team league in total defense and have allowed more points, 145, than any other club.
They were at their worst last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, when their pass rush slowed to a trot. They failed to record a single get a sack or even put any pressure on quarterback Boomer Esiason.
The Raider offense, meanwhile, will be going against a club that has rediscovered defense. Not since the halcyon days of the Killer B’s have the Dolphins been able to swarm and sting so effectively.
Miami was blown out by the Chicago Bears in its opener but since then has surrendered only 41 points in 4 games. This defense, led by linebackers Mark Brown and John Offerdahl, defensive backs William Judson and Jarvis Williams, and defensive linemen T. J. Turner and Brian Sochia, has not allowed a touchdown in 3 of its last 4 games.
But which Raider club will it be facing? This is a team with more personalities than Norman Bates. Two weeks ago, against the Denver Broncos, Jay Schroeder, in his Raider debut, brought his team back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to win in overtime. Last week against the Bengals, Schroeder threw had 4 interceptions in a dismal loss.
Missing for the Dolphins will be linebacker David Frye, out with a knee injury. Also suffering from a knee injury and listed as doubtful is cornerback Paul Lankford. Defensive end John Bosa is questionable with a groin injury, and running back Lorenzo Hampton, recovering from a hamstring pull, is listed as probable. Receiver Mark Clayton (dislocated thumb) is expected to play, as will linebacker Hugh Green (dislocated wrist).