Miami Coach Don Shula, who was outwardly distressed over his pass defense and hopes to make up for that with more offense, said today that David Woodley will start at quarterback against the Redskins Sunday in Miami.
Shula made this quite clear minutes after his Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills, 31-21, Monday night for their first loss of the NFL season. Woodley, who was injured two weeks ago against the Jets, sat out the game as Buffalo intercepted Don Strock three times in the first half and built a 31-7 lead.
"Woodley will be ready for the Redskins," Shula said when asked why his No. 1 quarterback did not play against the Bills.
"I could have played Woodley in the second half, but the way we were playing defense, I didn't think it was worth the risk of getting him reinjured," Shula said. "This way he'll have another week of rest before the Redskins game."
Woodley suffered a hairline fracture of his lowest rib in the Dolphins' 28-28 tie with the New York Jets a week ago and wore a flak jacket under his uniform in Buffalo.
"I'll be ready for the Redskins," he said. "I didn't work out much last week because it hurt when I took a deep breath. But I felt better tonight and was prepared to play if coach wanted me. I think by the end of the week I'll be fine."
With Woodley, the Dolphins rolled up 97 points while beating St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston and Baltimore in their first four games. The second-year quarterback from LSU currently ranks eighth in the AFC in passing after completing 61 of 115 attempts (53 percent) for 757 yards and five touchdowns.
He rose from obscurity to unseat incumbent Bob Griese and veteran reserve Strock to start the last 10 games.
Woodley was overlooked by other teams because he shared the quarterbacking duties with Steve Ensminger as a senior and completed only 46 percent of 118 passes for two touchdowns and six interceptions. He was selected on the eighth round (the 214th player picked) and hardly given a chance of surviving against Griese, Strock and Guy Benjamin.
Given an opportunity in the exhibition season when injuries slowed the veterans, Woodley responded by directing the team to 31 points in just five quarters. His obvious quickness, strong arm and poise precipitated the trade of Benjamin to New Orleans.
In his first start, Woodley led the Dolphins to a 17-14 victory over Buffalo by completing 11 of 17 passes. After losses at New York (Jets) and Oakland, Woodley directed a stunning 35-14 upset at Los Angeles.
In that memorable game that clinched his starting role and made Griese start thinking seriously about retirement, Woodley passed for three touchdowns and scrambled for the other two. In his final seven games, he connected on 56 percent of his passes for 1,335 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Shula obviously feels he needs plenty of offense against the Redskins because he is so discouraged with his pass defense.
Ironically, just when the Redskins were successful with a conservative, ground-oriented attack, they will be meeting a team with major problems against the long pass.
"We haven't been able to stop anybody for three weeks," Shula said, alluding to the fact that Buffalo ran the three-game point total to 87 despite not scoring in the second half. The three opposing quarterbacks threw for 1,005 yards.
After such a demoralizing setback here, it hardly seems likely that the Redskins will catch Miami unprepared. Shula said he was going to emphasize defense all week and might makes some personnel changes.
In a rare move, he benched free safety Don Bessillieu at halftime and Mike Kozlowski, a second-year converted running back, wound up in the secondary.
"I played as poorly as I ever have in my life in the first half," said Bessillieu, a three-year veteran. "I felt like asking out even if he hadn't taken me out. I don't know what it was, but I just wasn't with it tonight."
Gerald Small, a fourth-year cornerback, said the secondary has to make some major improvement, but that he didn't expect any drastic lineup changes.
"We miss Don, but that's no excuse," he said of last year's No. 1 draft choice, Don McNeal, who started the first three games at the other cornerback spot before being injured. "We've played poorly three weeks in a row. It's been a combination of lack of a pass rush, weak spots in the zone and, I guess, lack of concentration. This is the first time it's hurt us and now we've got to work hard and get things corrected before we play the Redskins."