NFL Preview - Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(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
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
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
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
"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
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 30, Dolphins 20
09/30 09:02:24 ET