When the NFL decided to make Sunday Night there glamour night of football, Monday nights were somewhat pushed aside for secondary games. Since 2006, when the league went this direction, the Sunday night games have generally outshone the Monday night tilts. This week is an exception. The 3-0 Miami Dolphins travel to the Bayou State to face the 3-0 New Orleans Saints this Monday night, in the best matchup of Week 4.
Both teams are a bit of a surprise early on. The Dolphins have scored victories over Cleveland, Indianapolis and Atlanta while the Saints have knocked off Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Arizona. Both teams have used a strong defense, combined with an opportunistic offense to find early success.
When Miami Has The Ball:
Ryan Tannehill is becoming a star in this league. The Dolphins quarterback engineered the game-winning drive against Atlanta last week, going 75 yards on 13 plays before finding rookie tight end Dion Sims for the winning touchdown. For the season, the Texas A&M grad has completed 66.4% of his pass attempts for 827 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a QB rating of 94.3. While Tannehill isn’t posting the greatest numbers around, he’s not making the big mistake, while staying efficient and poised.
One thing that is helping Tannehill is options in the passing game. Brian Hartline leads the Fins with 18 receptions for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Charles Clay has 14 receptions for 203 yards. Deep threat Mike Wallace hasn’t really broken through yet, but has managed 12 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Gibson has contributed 14 receptions for 137 yards. In other words, this is a balanced passing attack, which will force the Saints secondary to mix up their coverages, instead of focusing on one receiver. The Saints do have the fourth best pass defense in the NFL, so this should be a fantastic matchup.
If there is a weakness to the Miami offense, it is the running game. The Dolphins rank 28th in the league, averaging 70.3 yards per game on the ground. Lamar Miller does lead the team in rushing, but hasn’t been a huge factor so far this season. Miami will need to run the ball to slow the game down and keep the explosive New Orleans offense off the field. The Saints do struggle against the run, giving up 111.3 yards per game. Miami has to expose this, if they harbour any chance of winning.
When New Orleans Has The Ball:
When he finally decides to hang up his cleats, there will be a place in Canton for Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback is putting up wins, even though his individual numbers aren’t the best. The Purdue alum has completed 63.8% of his pass attempts for 1,021 yards, 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for a QB rating of 91.4. Despite the average numbers, Brees and the Saints are fourth in passing offense, averaging 318.7 yards passing per game. If Brees cuts down on the interceptions, the Saints will be a beast to contend with.
Brees favourite target is tight end Jimmy Graham. For a 6-7, 265 pound man, Graham is one of, if not the most athletic tight end in the NFL. The University of Miami product leads the Saints with 23 receptions for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. Marques Colston remains a reliable receiver for New Orleans, snagging 14 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown. Darren Sproles is a scary threat from the backfield, as his speed and escapability can give defenses nightmares. The Dolphins have the 21st ranked pass defense, giving up an average of 263.3 yards per game through the air. Defensive end Cameron Wake will need to put pressure on Brees, if the Dolphins want to slow the Saints down.
The Saints don’t run the ball much, ranking 21st in rush attempts and 24th in yards gained on the ground averaging 85.7 yards on the ground. Pierre Thomas only has 100 yards through 3 games, but it hasn’t mattered so far. Sproles can be used as a back, but is more effective as a receiver in the flat. The Dolphins rank 18th against the run, giving up an average of 108.7 yards on the ground. The feeling is Miami will overplay the pass, knowing the Saints tend to throw the ball. If Miami move its safeties back, it could open up holes in the running game. Look for New Orleans to perhaps run more to force the safeties to cheat, then Brees can go over the top of the cheating safeties to Graham or Colston.
The biggest intangible is home field advantage. Since 2009, (including playoffs) the Saints are 28-9 at the noisy Mercedes-Benz Superdome. There is something special about Monday Night Football in New Orleans and the noise that will rain down in the dome will be deafening. Miami hasn’t been involved in a game like this in a long time. How the Dolphins react to the pressure and the hostile environment could very well determine the outcome of the game.
This should be a great game, but something tells me the Dolphins are due for a fall. New Orleans has been under the radar as Seattle and Chicago have been gaining most of the headlines in the NFC. The Saints are seething and they will take out their frustrations on Miami. The Dolphins defense will face their stiffest challenge and while Miami will remain in contention in the AFC East, they will stumble here. Saints win 35-17.
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