Breaking down the game | By sportswriter Armando Salguero
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
If the Dolphins can resolve their issue with sacks, the passing game would border on elite. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 14 times this year, which is more than any other NFL quarterback. Some of that is the offensive line, some of that is poor blocking by backs and tight ends, some of that is Tannehill holding the ball too long. Tannehill is spreading the football around completing passes to nine different receivers last week. Miami has speed on the outside and a physical presence from Brandon Gibson in the slot. Add Charles Clay, who is finally emerging, and the passing game is borderline dynamic. The Saints have been equally dynamic stopping the pass. Theyre No. 4 against the pass, theyre sixth in interception percentage. Cameron Jordan is emerging as an excellent pass rusher. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
The Dolphins running game came around a bit last week, as Miami rushed for 90 yards on 15 carries a 6-yard-a-carry average. But the Dolphins need to actually run more often against the Saints so that they can improve the time of possession and limit the amount of time Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense is on the field. This would be a good strategy because the Saints arent exceptional against the run. And by not exceptional, read terrible. New Orleans is 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt allowed and 20th in rushing yards allowed per game. They are vulnerable. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
WHEN THE SAINTS RUN THE BALL
Pierre Thomas remains the most effective running threat for New Orleans despite the fact the team invested a first-round pick in Mark Ingram two years ago. Thomas is averaging a 4 yards per rush, but his longest run of the season is 11 yards. He is not breakaway threat. Darren Sproles is actually New Orleans change-of-pace back, while Ingram has been something of a disappointment, averaging only 1.8 yards per run. The Dolphins missed 11 tackles last week against the Falcons. Six of those were on linebacker Phillip Wheeler. The Dolphins struggled with average running team Atlanta perhaps, in part, because defensive tackle Paul Soliai didnt play. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.
WHEN THE SAINTS PASS THE BALL
The Saints are scary good when they throw the ball but not infallible. Yes, Drew Brees is among the NFLs acknowledged elite QBs but he has thrown four interceptions to go with his six TD passes. And while Jimmy Graham is a matchup nightmare, the Saints are an intermediate passing team. The Dolphins must pressure Brees. He has been sacked 10 times in three games, so there is vulnerability there. But if Miami is without defensive end Cameron Wake aside from the loss of cornerback Dimitri Patterson, the defense against the pass will be great diminished. The Saints lead the NFL in yards after the catch since 2006. ADVANTAGE: Saints.
Brandon Fields and Caleb Sturgis are arguably the most consistent players on the Miami roster. Sturgis has not missed this season and is even 2 for 2 on FGs of 50 yards or more. Fields is third in the NFL in net punting average and fourth in overall average. The Saints have a threat in Sproles on kickoff returns and punt returns. But this is mostly about reputation. Sproles is averaging only 7.3 yards per return. ADVANTAGE: Even.
The Miami coaching staff is good at correcting issues that pop up in previous weeks. Look for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to address the issues with stopping the run and missing tackles, which showed up against Atlanta. The Saints, terrible on defense a year ago, have completely turned around under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints allowed 3.1 TDs per game last season. They are allowing 1.3 TDs per game this season. ADVANTAGE: Even.