Miami Dolphins’ Adam Gase: Tighter coverage on tight end is a must

Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook (87) makes a catch against Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Maybe it was just a blip on the radar.

The Dolphins must hope so.

A Dolphins defense that has been surprisingly stout most of this season had no solutions for Raiders tight end Jared Cook on Sunday night.

The Raiders went to Jared, all right, targeting him nine times, resulting in eight completions for 126 yards.

Whether that exposed a weakness among Dolphins linebackers for offensive coordinators to exploit should begin to come into focus next Monday night when the Dolphins visit the Carolina Panthers.

It places an item high on the to-do list of Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke.

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Raiders tight end Jared Cook makes a catch against safety Reshad Jones. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“I know we tried a whole bunch of different things, but he seemed to find a way to get open,” coach Adam Gase said of Cook.

The Dolphins catch a bit of a break because Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, a former University of Miami Hurricane who has been to three Pro Bowls, isn’t scheduled to return from a foot injury until late this month. Fill-in Ed Dickson has 22 receptions for 349 yards this season but had a monstrous five-catch, 175-yard day against the Lions in Week 5.

Although there have been times in recent years when tight ends have devoured the Dolphins, for the most part that has not been the case in 2017.

In the opener against the Chargers, Hunter Henry caught seven passes (in seven targets) for 80 yards but future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates was held to two catches for 11.

The next opponent, the Jets, worked the tight end heavily into their game plan, targeting Austin Seferian-Jenkins six times in the first meeting and five times in the rematch. The result was one touchdown but a total of only 52 yards.

Tight ends were largely held in check in games against the Saints and Titans. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looked Austin Hooper’s way a team-high nine times, for seven catches and 48 yards. A week ago, Ravens QB Joe Flacco targeted his two tight ends eight times for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Perhaps that planted a seed for Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. Cook caught three passes for 59 yards on Oakland’s opening drive, which ended with a field goal. In a statistical anomaly, those 59 yards came on a drive officially listed as going 58 yards.

On that series, linebacker Kiko Alonso was isolated on Cook, who has four 500-yard seasons in his nine-year NFL career.

Cook caused more headaches in the second quarter, on the possession following Kenyan Drake’s fumble. On the first play, Derek Carr bought time by scrambling to his left. Alonso appeared to think Carr was going to take off running and dropped off coverage, opening the door for an easy 27-yard completion.

“There were a couple times where we talked about getting our hands on him,” Gase said. “We didn’t. A couple of the zone coverages that he caught balls in, we should’ve had tighter coverage and we didn’t. … One time we were playing man. The rest of the time we’re playing zone. We just can’t give him so much air. We’ve got to make sure we do a better job in those first five yards.”

The series ended with a 44-yard TD pass to Johnny Holton.

At times later in the game, safety Reshad Jones was on Cook.

“I think we understood what they wanted to do,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “We allowed them to stay on the field. We weren’t getting off the field on third down. We were putting them in situations that we wanted to be in but at the end of the day we’ve got to find ways to get off the ball, make plays and get off the football field.”

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