The New Orleans Saints are coming off of their first victory of the 2017 season last week, a 34-13 win on the road against NFC South rival Carolina. This week, the 1-2 Saints are in London, England looking to even their record as they head into their bye week. Standing in their way are the 1-1 Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins are listed as the "home" team for this game, but have yet to play in the confines of their own stadium, thanks to the postponement of their Week 1 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to Hurricane Irma. After opening their season with a Week 2 road victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami was upset 20-6 last week at the New York Jets.
Today, we take a look at some of the matchups to watch as the Saints offense is on the field against the Miami defense.
Saints pass offense vs. Dolphins pass defense
Drew Brees is completing just under 69% of his passes for 867 yards and 6 touchdowns with no interceptions. Just as important, he has been sacked just 3 times, even while missing injured starting tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk has played well at right tackle in Strief's absence, and Andrus Peat held up well at left tackle against Carolina's talented defensive line last Sunday.
Senio Kelemete has stepped into Peat's normal spot at left guard and played well, while Max Unger (center) and Larry Warford (right guard) gave Brees a clean interior pass pocket to survey the field. New Orleans wide receiver Willie Snead returns to the team after missing the first 3 games due to a league suspension. Without Snead in the lineup, opponents have been able to stack their coverages on the best Saints receiver, Michael Thomas, who still leads the team with 17 receptions for 221 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints other receivers struggled a bit to make plays in the first two games, even with the extra attention paid to Thomas. Coby Fleener may be the exception, playing the best football of his short New Orleans career this season. Fleener has 9 catches for 108 yards with 2 scores, seems to have a better grasp of the Saints offense than he did a year ago, and has given Brees a reliable target down the seam of the field, as well as a trusted check down option.
Brandon Coleman has progressed in his development and has Brees' trust, but is only a consistent target in the red zone. Ted Ginn and Tommylee Lewis are the team's best deep threats, and the hope is that they can threaten the opposing defense downfield with more frequency. Mark Ingram (11 receptions) remains an underrated receiving threat at running back, and rookie Alvin Kamara (10 receptions) looks to have taken over the role as 3rd down back, although fans are still waiting for a big breakout performance from him.
The Miami defense has given up an average of less than 19 points per game, but their 351 yards per game surrendered ranks 25th in the league. This is primarily because of their 28th ranked pass defense has given up an average of 278 yards per game. The Dolphins have one of the better pass rushers in the league in Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, who has one sack this year after 11.5 a year ago.
Ndamukong Suh is among the best defensive tackles in the league, and was also a Pro Bowler last year. Outside of those two, Miami hopes that 2017 1st round draft pick Charles Harris can give them the type of pass rush to compliment Wake that Andre Branch and William Hayes have not consistently provided. Still, Miami certainly possesses the talent up front to disrupt the Saints passing game.
At linebacker, Kiko Alonso and Chase Allen are solid fundamental players often among the top tacklers on this defense, but are athletically limited and should be no match for Kamara, Ingram, and Fleener in the Saints intermediate passing game. Former Saints 1st round pick Stephone Anthony was obtained by Miami in a trade last week, and could add some athleticism to the second level of the Dolphins defense. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is expected to return to the Miami lineup after missing the first two games with personal issues. At this stage of his career, Timmons is still good against the run, but is a liability in pass coverage or when forced to move in space.
The Dolphins secondary may be the weakest part of their defense, and have looked especially vulnerable down the field. Veteran cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard and Alterraun Verner have had trouble keeping up with opposing receivers, while safeties Reshad Jones, Michael Thomas and Nate Allen are very good tacklers, but struggle in pass coverage. Miami is allowing an incredible 79% completion percentage against opposing quarterbacks, and have yet to face a passing attack as multidimensional as what New Orleans will offer.
Saints run offense vs. Dolphins run defense
The Saints had their best rushing effort of the season last week, running for 149 yards against the formidable Panthers front seven. Mark Ingram led the way with 56 yards rushing on 14 attempts, and Kamara added a 25-yard touchdown run for the team's first score on the ground this season. The Saints achieved the majority of their success over the right side of their line, with Larry Warford and Ryan Ramczyk opening holes consistently. Ingram is the team's leading rusher so far, with 125 yards and an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson has only averaged 3.3 yards on his 23 carries, and the New Orleans offense has been much more effective with Ingram or Kamara in the lineup.
The Miami defense has allowed opponents just 3.1 yards per carry, and giving up just under 79 rushing yards per game, ranking 5th in the league. The return of Timmons further strengthens the run defense, but the key for them is Suh, who attracts double and triple team blocking, allowing the linebackers and safeties to move freely in run support.
What to look for
On paper, the Saints look as if they might be able to pass the ball at will against this Dolphins defense. The Miami secondary does not look to have the skill or athleticism to keep up with the New Orleans backs and receivers. The key for the Saints will lie in their ability to contain Dolphin rushers Wake and Suh, and allow Brees to find his open targets. The return of Snead to this offense should be huge, expect to see him and Thomas heavily involved in the offensive game plan early.
Running the ball might prove to be a more difficult task for the Saints in this game. Tackles Armstead and Strief are both back at practice, but their return to the lineup will not be until after the team's bye week. Ingram and Kamara are more likely to have the best success against Miami, because of their versatility and ability to get outside. If the Saints passing game is able to connect on a few downfield shots early in this contest, it will likely back Miami safeties Reshad Jones, their leading tackler, Nate Allen and Michael Thomas off the line of sctimmage more often, allowing the New Orleans running game to be more effective as the game progresses.
Which New Orleans skill position player is most important to the team's success against Miami?
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