Tale of the tape: Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints
The Miami Dolphins visit the New Orleans Saints for a Monday night showdown involving a pair of surprise unbeaten teams. The Dolphins have fared well against potent Atlanta and Indianapolis pass attacks, but should be in for their toughest assignment of the young season as they look to silence Drew Brees and the vaunted New Orleans offense.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
The Dolphins' attack was supposed to be bolstered with the arrival of former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Mike Wallace, but Miami still ranks in the bottom quarter of the NFL in yards per game (319.3). The passing game has actually improved marginally, sitting in the middle of the pack, but at just 70.3 rushing yards per game entering Monday night, the running back tandem of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas need to be better. The two continue to share carries, with Miller amassing 32 and Thomas 21 through the first three games.
Brees looks as dangerous as ever, averaging better than 340 yards per game through the air while racking up six passing touchdowns. His top target has been Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who has decimated opposing defenses to the tune of 358 receiving yards and four scores. Even if the Dolphins find a way to contain him, Brees has no shortage of secondary weapons, led by veteran wide receiver Marques Colston (14 receptions, 202 yards, TD) and speedy running back Darren Sproles (16 receptions, 163 yards).
Edge: New Orleans
Miami has opened with three consecutive victories despite being below average in both rush and pass defense. The Dolphins are surrendering nearly 109 yards per game on the ground, and were gashed for 146 by the Atlanta Falcons in a narrow Week 3 victory. Things have been slightly worse in pass defense (21st in yards per game), thanks in large part to Andrew Luck's 321-yard explosion in Miami's 24-20 triumph in Week 2. Miami comes into Week 4 with a plus-two turnover differential.
The years of horrid New Orleans defensive performances may be in the rearview mirror following a string of impressive efforts to open 2013. The Saints boast one of the top pass defenses in football coming into Week 4, ranked fourth in the league at 184.3 yards surrendered per game. They limited Arizona to 161 yards through the air in last week's 31-7 thrashing while intercepting quarterback Carson Palmer twice. The run defense has been slightly below average, ranked 20th in the league at 111.3 yards against per game.
Edge: New Orleans
Miami has one of the best kickoff return games in the league so far, averaging 26.2 yards per attempt - good for eighth in the NFL. By comparison, the Dolphins find themselves in the middle of the pack in punt returns (7.3 per attempt). Rookie Placekicker Caleb Sturgis has been perfect to date, going 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts - including five from 40 yards or further - and 8-for-8 on extra points. The 2013 fifth-round pick connected on field goals of 46 and 50 yards in Week 3's 27-23 victory over the Falcons.
New Orleans has been impressive in its own right with kickoff returns, averaging 30 yards on four attempts. Punt returns are a different story altogether; the Saints are averaging just six yards in six attempts, good for 23rd in the league. Veteran kicker Garrett Hartley has been kept busy through the first three games, going 7-of-8 on field-goal attempts and 7-of-7 on extra points. He converted a 31-yard kick for his only field goal of the game against the Cardinals, though he added four extra points.
"He is a tremendous athlete and the two things that stand out, his ability to elevate and jump. He is explosive and has outstanding hands on the ball. He is a player that I know studies a lot of film and when you watch him now this season, you see all the things you saw on a yearly basis twice during the year (when he was with Atlanta)." – Saints head coach Sean Payton on Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes
"I think the game has slowed down for him tremendously. He's seen all the different looks the defense is giving him in terms of fronts and pressures and coverages, so it's slowed down for him." – Dolphins quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor on second-year QB Ryan Tannehill