Monday, September 30, 2013
W2W4: Saints vs. Dolphins
By Mike Triplett
For the first time in 15 years, two teams with records of 3-0 or better will meet on "Monday Night Football" when the New Orleans Saints (3-0) host the Miami Dolphins (3-0). Here’s what to watch for tonight:
Containing Graham: The Saints have a ton of offensive weapons, but contraining tight end Jimmy Graham has to be priority No. 1 for the Dolphins. Three of the four touchdown passes the Dolphins have allowed this year have gone to tight ends, and Graham brings that threat to a whole other level.
Can the Dolphins slow down Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in tonight's matchup in New Orleans?
Graham has been on an absolute tear this year, catching 23 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns. Heading into this week, his 19 receptions for first downs led the NFL.
“His production over the last two weeks has been off the charts,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “He obviously has great size and weight. He seems to be a natural running down the field and going up and catching the ball. He can catch the ball in traffic. He can catch the ball when he gets hit. He has excellent concentration and hands. His size and length are an issue, and it’s a concern when you go play him. He has done a great job.”
Brotherly battle: The lifelong friendship of Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace and Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis makes for a great backstory. The two New Orleans-area natives, who describe each other as “brothers” will go head to head as opponents for the first time since they were kids. But there’s much more on the line than just their personal rivalry. Their matchup will be one of the most critical elements of the game for both teams.
The Dolphins signed Wallace to give them the big-play threat they needed, and the Saints signed Lewis to help prevent the big plays that tormented them last year. So far, the Saints’ secondary has done an outstanding job of preventing deep balls this year, but Wallace and receiver Brian Hartline will test them tonight.
Wake up? The Dolphins’ top pass-rusher (and arguably their top player overall), Cameron Wake, will be a game-time decision with a knee injury. Even if he plays, he might be limited. That’s a tough break for a Miami defense that would prefer to be at full strength against an offense as potent as the Saints. Wake’s 45.5 sacks are the third most in the NFL since the start of the 2009 season (including 2.5 this year). And the Dolphins led all NFL teams in quarterback pressure through the first three weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information (putting QBs under duress on 35 percent of dropbacks).
The Saints’ offensive line, meanwhile, should be getting healthier with All-Pro right guard Jahri Evans expected to return from a hamstring injury tonight. The Saints have allowed an uncharacteristic 10 sacks so far this season, in large part because of Evans’ health issues.
Ready to run? So far this season, both teams have thrived despite their struggles in the run game. The Saints rank 22nd in the NFL at 85.7 yards per game and the Dolphins rank 27th at 70.3. Both teams want to be more balanced, but they’ve also shown that they won’t beat their heads against the wall trying to make that happen when the passing game is working. It will be interesting to see if either team can successfully run the ball early -- and how long they'll keep trying if the run game starts slowly.