Xavien Howard injury: New update on Dolphins CB good news for Patriots

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FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots got through the first month of the season, they had a relatively nice ride to Super Bowl LII. Aside from one jarring bump in South Florida.

They won eight in a row before heading to Miami to play the Dolphins, where they lost, 27-20, thanks in part to two picks secured by play-making corner Xavien Howard.

There's a chance they don't have to see Howard at Hard Rock Stadium for a second consecutive year, though. He's missed each of the first two practices for the Dolphins this week with a knee injury he suffered while returning his second interception against the Bills last weekend.

“His second interception, he just got hit awkwardly around his knee," coach Adam Gase said. "We’re going to go through the week and kind of see what it brings. It’s tough to say, ‘Is he going? Is he not?’ I’m not going to know until we get closer to the end.

"If he’s not our best player, he’s one of our best players. We just have to make sure that we have contingency plans for whatever the scenario calls for.”

The Dolphins are third in the league in takeaways and second in the NFL in interceptions (19) with Howard leading the way. He's tops in the NFL with seven picks, and no corner with at least 25 percent of his team's defensive snaps played has a better passer rating when targeted than Howard's 62.6. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week.

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How will the Dolphins look to replace Howard if he can't go?

They could hand Torry McTyler a larger role. He played just one snap last weekend, but he's been used in a variety of positions in the Miami secondary, including playing on the outside against the Patriots in Week 4. That was the middle of a rough stretch in coverage for McTyler, who allowed 15 catches for 269 yards and a touchdown in five games between Weeks 3 and 9. Against the Patriots, he allowed three catches on three targets to Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan for 58 yards.

Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bobby McCain are likely going to serve as boundary and slot corners, respectively, though McCain can also play on the outside if Howard is out.

According to the Miami Herald, there aren't many defenders not named Howard who've fared well in coverage this year. As a group, Dolphins defenders outside of Howard have allowed 68.5 percent of their targets to be caught, and they're allowing an 8.1 yards per attempt average as well as a 96.9 rating.

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