In a battle of 3-0 teams, it’s the New Orleans Saints and the surprising Miami Dolphins squaring off in a Monday Night Showdown. The Saints look to be back on track after a chaotic 2012 season with wins over the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Cardinals to start the season.
The Dolphins on the other hand have stunning wins over the Falcons, and the Colts on the road, giving Indy their first home loss in 12 months. Miami also beat the Browns in week 1. The Dolphins hot start has many believing this could be a special season in South Beach, but a matchup in the Big Easy could be Miami’s toughest task thus far.
The Saints bring the NFL’s 7th ranked offense into week 4, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Drew Brees has been typical Drew Brees throwing for over 320 yards in each of his teams first 3 games. Jimmy Graham has been the league’s most productive tight end so far with 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. Darren Sproles is once again causing matchup nightmares with 16 catches out of the backfield for 163 yards. Marques Colston is having a solid season with 14 catches, 202 yards, and a touchdown. But the rushing attack has been abysmal. Pierre Thomas is the Saints leading rusher with 100 yards on the ground, and his 43 yards in week 1 are the most by a Saints back in a single game this season. That’s pretty bad.
Ryan Tannehill isn’t getting major attention, but the 2nd year quarterback is off to an excellent start in 2013. Tannehill is completing 66 percent of his passes and has a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace form a formidable wide receiving tandem, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield, and 2011 6th round pick, and converted full-back Charles Clay has been a revelation at tight end. Clay is 4th among NFL tight ends with 203 receiving yards. After losing Dustin Keller for the year in the pre-season, it appeared Tannehill would have to rely heavily on the receiving core, but Clay is exceeding all expectations.
While both of these offenses have their strengths and weaknesses, the fact that the Dolphins get zero production out of the tight end spot gives the edge to the Saints. New Orleans offense is more prolific than Miami’s and Drew Brees is coming off his best game of the season.
Under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints defense has allowed the 4th fewest yards in the NFL. Rob’s “I’ll be out of work for like 5 minutes” comment looks pretty good now after the Saints set the NFL record last season for most yards allowed. The pass rush has showed up thus far for New Orleans with Junior Gallette and Cameron Jordan combining for 5 sacks between the two of them. But the most surprising unit has been the secondary. Last week against the Cardinals, New Orleans limited Carson Palmer to just 187 yards on 18/35 passes. Larry Fitzgerald was held in check catching 5 passes for 64 yards.
Miami’s defense has bent in each game, but hasn’t broke….yet. In week 2 against Indy, with Andrew Luck establishing himself as Mr. Comeback, the Dolphins D got the stop it needed late in the 4th to preserve a 24-20 win. Last week against Atlanta, Matt Ryan drove the Falcons all the way to the Miami 17-yard line, but the Dolphins stopped Atlanta on a crucial 3rd down, and Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal. Miami is holding opposing offenses to a 32.5 percent mark (12/40) on 3rd down conversions. But it’s looking more and more like 2-time pro bowler Cameron Wake will have to sit this one out leaving a gaping hole at defensive end. Look for rookie Dion Jordan to get decent playing time. Cornerback Brent Grimes and saftey Reshad Jones have elite ability, but haven’t played that way so far. They’re going to have to show up big time if the Dolphins are going to have a chance.
In a shocking turn of events, the Saints defense is playing excellent, getting nice contributions from unexpected sources. The Dolphins defense may be better on paper, but hasn’t played a great game yet. The defensive edge right now goes to New Orleans.
Kicker: Garrett Hartley vs. Caleb Sturgis
Punter: Thomas Morstead vs. Brandon Fields
Return Man: Darren Sproles vs. Marcus Thigpen
Miami’s rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis has yet to miss this season going 6/6 on field goals including 2/2 on tries from 50 yards plus. The more experienced Garrett Hartley is a not too shabby 7/8.
Miami’s Brandon Fields is averaging 49 yards per punt, which is good for 4th best in the NFL. Thomas Morstead is 11th averaging 47 yards per punt, and neither punter has punted for a touchback, pretty impressive.
In the return game, Darren Sproles and Marcus Thigpen both have the ability to take it to the house on any attempt. Thigpen had 2 return TDs last season, and Sproles has 5 in his career.
The Special Teams edge right now goes to the Dolphins. Miami has a kicker who hasn’t missed, a punter averaging more yards per punt, and a kick returner just as good, if not better than Sproles.
Not much has gone wrong in South Beach through 3 games, but a prime-time matchup in the Big Easy is a tough task for any team. The Saints will get the better of the Fins in this one, but the real key is how Miami responds in week 5 against Baltimore.
Saints 28 Dolphins 17