The 3-0 Miami Dolphins will travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to try to knock off the New Orleans Saints. The Saints look to improve to 4-0 on Monday Night, where they have had a good amount of success. Since the hiring of Sean Payton, the Saints have been 10-2 on Monday Night including 8 straight victories by an average margin of 16 points. Though the Dolphins being 3-0 is surprising to many pundits around the league, they will provide a stiff test for the Saints this Monday. Here are some things to watch for this Monday.
1) Can the Saints get the running game together?
The Saints haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground this season; they rank 24th in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per rushing attempt. The Dolphins could be without defensive line starter Cameron Wake and Paul Soliai. Combine that with the possible return of All Pro guard Jahri Evans and the Saints might be able to get on track with the ground game. With Mark Ingram expected to be out, it will be interesting how Sean Payton decides to distribute the carries between the remaining backs.
One bright spot this season for the Saints’ ground game has been preseason star Khiry Robinson who came in last week and gained 38 yards on 4 carries averaging a stout 9.5 yards a touch. Robinson is an angry, Chris Ivory-esque runner and could bring the physical running style the Saints have been expecting out of and haven’t gotten from Ingram.
2) Keenan Lewis vs Mike Wallace
The Saints’ defense continue its tour of the elite wide receivers this season as they welcome in New Orleans native and prized free agent Mike Wallace. The Saints have held the likes of Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson, and Larry Fitzgerald to less than 80 yards receiving and look to do the same with Wallace.
The primary defender responsible for Wallace could be Keenan Lewis. Lewis and Wallace both grew up in New Orleans and were childhood friends; Lewis was actually responsible for Wallace’s interest in football and pushed his in that direction. In addition, they both played for the Steelers just last year. Both players know each other well which should make for a great battle on the field. The Saints will need Lewis to hold his own as Wallace has game-breaking speed and can be an instant 6 points at any time.
3) The Saints’ pass rush
Lewis’ job can be made significantly easier by a consistent pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Last week, the Saints recorded four sacks and even more pressures against the Arizona Cardinals behind the efforts of Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan. The Saints will be looking to build on that effort with another strong outing against the Dolphins.
Last week, the Dolphins gave up 5 sacks to the Atlanta Falcons, a team that didn’t have their top pass rushing defensive lineman or top linebacker. Galette, Jordan, Akiem Hicks, and others are really buying into Rob Ryan’s system, and with the Dolphins’ offensive line being suspect, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints’ front four dominance continues.
4) Can Drew Brees stay turnover free?
I know it is outrageous to question Drew Brees at any juncture considering all that he has done for this franchise. However, this is a fair question. Dating back to last season, out of 19 games, Brees has had only 3 games where he hasn’t turned the ball over. That’s a pretty crazy stat for someone who is as efficient as Brees is. In three games this season, he already has 4 interceptions. And there really is no reason for Brees’ erratic ways.
Last season, the combination of no running game and no defense put an overwhelming amount of pressure on Brees, forcing him to make more risky throws and mistakes. However, this year is different; with a defense that is ranked in the top 5, Brees shouldn’t feel the need to do it all by himself. Hopefully, Monday is the start of Brees being more careful with the ball. If he can accomplish that, the Saints get even scarier as a team.
5) X Factors: Brent Grimes and Jabari Greer
Grimes is playing the Saints once again, but this time as a Dolphin. While Grimes was a Falcon, he was at times public enemy number one for Brees and the offense. Despite his diminutive stature, his ability to make plays is top notch. He is constantly around the ball and has a knack for forcing fumbles and creating turnovers. He tends to roam around the slot a good bit. Don’t be surprised if the Saints try to put him positions where he has to guard tight end Jimmy Graham, who has a one foot height difference over Grimes. It will be important for the Saints to be careful around the pesky Grimes as he can create turnovers and change momentum at any second.
Jabari Greer has been one of the most solid pieces on this defense this season, and the Saints will need his efforts again this Monday. If the Saints do put Lewis on Wallace, Greer will be matched up on Brian Hartline. The Dolphins have proven that they don’t need big numbers from Wallace to be successful as he has posted 2 games with under 25 yard receiving. When Wallace is being blanketed Hartline has able to beat one-on-one coverage to pick up the slack. It will be up to Greer, who will be put on an island against Hartline, to contain his production. If he can limit Hartline, the Dolphins will have some tough sledding in the passing game.