Saints vs. Dolphins ESPN Monday Night Football 2013: Scouting the Enemy

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In anticipation of the Saints' Monday Night Football matchup against the Dolphins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I caught up with SB Nation's resident Dolphins expert, Kevin Nogle, from The Phinsider to get his inside perspective on the Saints' upcoming opponent.

Dave Cariello: Are the Dolphins for real with this 3-0 start or do you expect them to fall to Earth soon?

Kevin Nogle: I think the Dolphins are for real this season, but I don't think they are going to be making a push for an undefeated season or anything. Before the season, I was predicting a 9-7 record, with the team in playoff contention. A hot start like this makes that seem much more managable, but I don't want to elevate my expectations, because it really is still early in the season. These first five weeks, leading into Miami's Week 6 bye week, were seen as the toughest stretch of the season, with two road games to open the season, and three of the five on the road, with three playoff teams from last year plus the Saints looking to put last year behind them, and one of those playoff teams being the defending Super Bowl champions. Coming our of that stretch 2-3 was going to be seen as suuccess. At this point, the Dolphins are playing with house money before the bye week. Once they enter the AFC East schedule, which will being in Week 7 with the Buffalo Bills, we will get a much better idea if this is a team that can challenge New England for the division title, will push for a wildcard spot, or be at home in January yet again.

With that being said, I am really excited about what this team could do this year as they get better with more time working together.

***

Dave: Ryan Tannehill has been taking a beating this season. Are you concerned about this significantly improved Saints pass rush?

Kevin: Yes and no? Yes, because at this point, every mediocre pass rush worries me, and the Saints are much improved over last year. Rob Ryan will have them ready to go and Tannehill will probably take the brunt of that. But, no, because the Dolphins have made it to 3-0 despite allowing 14 sacks already this season. Tannehill has to stop getting hit, but at least the team knows, even if the pass protection is bad, they can still find a way to pull it together.

The funny part is, there's no one reason for all of the sacks so far. The offensive line has not be great by any stretch of the imagination, but they aren't completely at fault. Running backs and tight ends are missing assignments, or simply missing the block on the player they are supposed to pick up. Tannehill is stepping into some sacks, or not feeling the rush, and he has a bad habit of holding the ball too long right now. I think that's a matter of him wanting to make the play with his arm rather than his legs, but it's leading to sacks - and fumbles - that the team needs to avoid. Last week, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took the blame for two of the sacks, saying he made the wrong play call based on what he thought the Falcons would do, and then there wasn't a better option for Tannehill to audible.

The Saints pass rush is clearly going to be a major storyline for the Dolphins this week.

***

Dave: Defensive end Cameron Wake is dealing with an MCL sprain. Please tell me he's not going to play Monday night. Pretty please?

Kevin: We really don't know at this point. Wake's MCL sprain is listed as "mild," with the South Florida Sun Sentinel saying he will be out 2-3 weeks with the injury. However, that's just a guess based on the normal recovery for an MCL sprain. What really happens is still to be seen.

It's a good sign - at least for Dolphins fans - that Wake is practicing this week, even if it is in a limited status. Can Wake go on Monday, and how effective he will be, are the top two questions around the Dolphins right now. My guess is, we will see him out there in passing situations, while Derrick Shelby takes the majority of the snaps. But, that's purely a guess at this point.

***

Dave: What's the best way for the Saints offense to attack the Dolphins defense and have success?

Kevin: I wish I could give you a straight answer, but I can't. The Dolphins defense was ravaged by injuries last week, admittedly with most of them being minor, but how to attack the Dolphins defense really will come down to who is on the field Monday night. If defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, is unable to play, the run game up the middle will find some success. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson also missed last week, and did not practice on Wednesday, so he's probably going to be out again this week, meaning safety/cornerback Jimmy Wilson will be asked to play more nickel coverage, and he can be beat by quicker, more agile route runners.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has a ribs injury that is clearly causing him pain, but he played all but one snap on Sunday, so his injury status does not seem to be impacting his play.

Maybe the best way to answer your question is to tell you where not to attack. Stay away from Brent Grimes. The former Falcons defensive back is dominating this year, and teams are learning to simply ignore whatever receiver he is covering. I know you guys are familiar with Grimes, so I won't spend much time going over his individual abilities, I will just say, he is playing like his 2010 Pro Bowl form, and he's not the guy Drew Brees needs to be challenging.

The other thing is, with or without Cameron Wake, Brees has to get the ball out of his hand fast. The Saints offensive line has struggled this year, and the Dolphins love to get after the quarterback. Brees is awesome against the blitz, which the Dolphins do a lot, but Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby, Dion Jordan, Randy Starks, and Jared Odrick can all generate pressure without a linebacker or safety adding to the rush. If Brees holds the ball a beat too long, someone is probably going to be there to hit him, if not get the sack.

***

Dave: Tell me about a Dolphins player that Saints fans probably don't know about but might have an impact on the game Monday.

Kevin: I'll give you two, both as pass catching threats. The first is H-back Charles Clay, who is stepping up into a receiving option after the loss of Dustin Keller this preseason. Clay is currently 32nd in the league in receiving yards at 203, and is averaging 14.5 yards per catch. He's starting to receive some mentions in the media, but he is not someone who a lot of fans outside of Miami know yet.

The other one is a bigger name, but seems to be the fogotten receiver with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline getting all the press. Brandon Gibson has transitioned into the slot receiver role really well, and he is simply a first down machine. He's a name people will remember from his time in St. Louis, but he's not someone people will immediately think of when they are looking at Miami's offense. He may not make the long play (his longest reception this season is 24 yards), but he sure will make a big one at some point, keeping the Dolphins' offense on the field.

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