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Dolphins set to test Saints in battle of unbeatens
(Sports Network) - Laissez les bons temps rouler.
That's the Cajun phrase which means: "Let the good times roll."
And the good times are certainly rolling again in New Orleans now that head coach Sean Payton is back on the sidelines after a year away from the game due to the Bountygate scandal.
Fresh off a dominating 31-7 win over Arizona at the Superdome, the unbeaten Saints will host the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football" in a matchup of two of the NFL's seven unblemished teams entering Week 4.
A methodical offense spearheaded by All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees and an improved attacking defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan have spurred the Saints to their third 3-0 start under Payton.
New Orleans has improved to 4-0 only three times in franchise history: 1991, 1993 and 2009.
The Saints compiled a season-high 423 total net yards against the Cardinals in Week 3 behind Brees, who completed 29-of-46 passes for 342 yards with three touchdowns. The Pro-Bowler's top target was tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the team in receiving with nine receptions for 134 yards and two TDs and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Ryan's defense, meanwhile, only allowed one score on the opening drive of the game and two entries into the red zone. Emerging defensive star Cameron Jordan recorded two sacks, while cornerback Keenan Lewis, a free agent acquisition from Pittsburgh, and rookie first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro each intercepted Cards QB Carson Palmer.
"It's early but we're pleased with the start," Payton said. "As there is every week, there are some things we want to look at and clean up and get corrected."
The Saints will face a stiff challenge on Monday from a rejuvenated Dolphins team under second-year head coach Joe Philbin, who has Miami off to its first 3-0 start since 2002.
Sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill threw his second touchdown pass with 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter in Week 3, sending the Dolphins to a 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
After Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal wide right that would have given the Falcons a six-point lead with 4:46 to play, Tannehill led the Dolphins on a 13-play drive that ended with Dion Sims' one-handed, over-the-shoulder grab from a yard out off play-action.
"I didn't really think about the situation, everything was just instinctive," Sims said. "The linebacker grabbed my arm so I just reached up with my free arm and brought it in."
Miami safety Jimmy Wilson them picked off Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to seal the win.
Tannehill completed 24-of-35 passes for 236 yards with Sims and receiver Brian Hartline catching scoring passes.
The Saints and Dolphins have met 10 times in the regular season with Miami holding a 6-4 all-time series edge. NOLA captured the last contest, a 46-34 victory on Oct. 25, 2009 in Miami, a game in which the Saints matched their biggest comeback in franchise history when they rebounded from a 24-3 deficit with five seconds left in the first half.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
In Week 3, Brees extended his streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games to eight, a game behind his own NFL record. He has also won eight consecutive starts on "Monday Night Football" and has a 120.6 passer rating in those contests, completing 194-of-273 passes (71.1 percent) for 2,467 yards (308.4 per game) with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
"We are focusing on an excellent New Orleans team we have to get ready for," Philbin said. "We have to do a lot of preparation and a little extra work to get familiar with their schemes and personnel."
Getting familiar with Brees is far easier said than done. He's on a very short list of signal callers -- along with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and perhaps Ryan -- who can comprehend everything being thrown at him by an opposing defense and adjust on the fly at the line of scrimmage.
"With Drew it starts with being efficient, leading his team to opportunities to win," Payton said. "He's someone that's very prepared, very accurate and gets rid of the ball very quickly. The expectation level that he has for himself is very high."
Graham, a matchup nightmare from the slot who leads the Saints in all receiving categories with 23 receptions for 358 yards and four TDs, has been Brees' go-to-guy early the season.
"He's very tall, he's got very good athleticism and very good ball skills," Payton said when asked about his tight end. "His ability to transition in routes and torque his body in ways that allow him to catch balls behind, balls on-top or balls low (really helps)."
"He's kind of hard to match up with, no matter how big or fast you are and I think more so than anything is his fire and passion for the game," Brees added. "He wants to be a great player, he's very versatile, very athletic. I think his basketball background certainly helps him in that regard. I kind of know what that basketball background can do for you as far as body position, body control, your ability to kind of see the ball, go up and get it."
Philbin will need to find a way to slow the Brees-to-Graham juggernaut down a bit. Cornerback Brent Grimes knows Brees and Co. well from his time in Atlanta while the Miami pass rush -- led by Cameron Wake -- really needs to bring it.
Wake, however, has been listed as questionable on the Dolphins' injury report due to a sprained MCL. Miami defensive tackle Paul Soliai and linebacker Koa Misi are also iffy for the contest.
The Saints defense has been bolstered by Rob Ryan along with the additions of Lewis and Vaccaro in the defensive backfield as well as the emergence of Jordan up front. Jordan, the son of former Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, leads New Orleans with three sacks.
Ryan's unit is also dealing with some injuries though as defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and safety Roman Harper (knee) have already been ruled out.
The Dolphins offense isn't all that dynamic but they have excelled when it counts. Miami has outscored opponents 41-16 in the second half this season and leads the NFL in red zone efficiency at 87.5 percent.
"I think it's an all-around effort. I think guys are comfortable in the system now, being our second year here," Tannehill said of the team's improved offense.
Meanwhile, Tannehill has proved to be one of the better QBs in the fourth quarter this season, completing 21-of-28 passes for 192 yards in the final frame.
"He's certainly confident, you can just see that," Payton said when discussing Tannehill. "Most importantly, that position, the key is to lead their team to wins and give them a chance and you can see him do that."
The Dolphins look like a legitimate contender in the AFC East but getting the better of Brees in the Superdome at this stage is a little too much to ask for a second-year QB like Tannehill who is still trying to feel his way through the process.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 30, Dolphins 20
09/30 09:06:17 ET