- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: It’s pretty much official now that this Saints defense is truly new and improved. Three dominant performances is enough of a sample size to take this young unit seriously. It brought the pressure all day long against a suspect Cardinals line (four sacks, including two by end Cameron Jordan). It held up great on the back end, with surging rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro and veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis clinching the game with fourth-quarter interceptions.
It’s hard to believe, but through three games the Saints have been carried by their defense. The Saints' offense started rolling a bit on Sunday, too (well, the passing offense, anyway).
Stock watch: Apparently Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is trying to reset the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end that was snatched away from him by the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski in the final seconds of the 2011 season. Graham caught nine balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He’s now up to 14 catches for 224 yards and two scores on the year.
Last year, Graham had a “down year” by his standards, thanks to a season-long wrist injury and too many dropped passes (though he still had 982 yards and nine touchdowns). And he was stunningly left off of the NFL Network list of the top 100 current players, as voted on by players around the league. Graham, however, is quickly reminding everyone just how dominant a weapon he is.
Run game still grounded: The Saints’ run game was the only unit that did not join in on the fun Sunday. In fact, it actually regressed. The Saints had a total of minus-6 rushing yards on four carries in the first half. To be fair, one of those carries was a kneel-down by quarterback Drew Brees. But that actually made Brees the team’s leading rusher at that point in the game. Brees later scored the team’s only rushing touchdown of the season on a 7-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.
The Saints finished with 104 yards on 24 carries Sunday. It didn’t help that they were playing without All-Pro guard Jahri Evans and tailback Mark Ingram (who reportedly may seek a trade because he hasn’t been a good fit in the Saints' offense). But the Saints’ run game problems are widespread. It was already a top priority throughout the offseason, but it has not been fixed yet.
What’s next: The Saints should be the favorites to move to 4-0 since they’ll be playing at home again in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in prime time (where they’re especially dangerous) next Monday night on ESPN. But they’ll be facing one of their stiffest defensive tests to date against a Miami Dolphins team that has been off to a strong start itself (2-0 heading into a Sunday afternoon game at Atlanta).