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Breaking Down The Saints

Posted Sep 27, 2013

Examining the Dolphins opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.



THE SAINTS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE:
It doesn’t get any easier for the Dolphins pass defense this week. After having to deal with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White in their home opener, now it’s Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles. Brees has thrown for at least 300 yards in every game so far this season, which really is nothing new for him considering he threw for more than 5,000 yards each of the last two years. Graham, the former University of Miami basketball player, has become the most explosive pass-receiving tight end in the NFL, bar none. After a modest season debut against Atlanta, Graham had monster games the last two weeks against Tampa Bay (10 catches, 179 yards, 1 touchdown) and Arizona (9-134-2). Perhaps the best way for the Dolphins to slow down the New Orleans passing game would be to get to Brees, who has been sacked 10 times in three games this season.

THE SAINTS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: New Orleans has had a lot of depth at running back the last few years, but what the Saints don’t have is a bona fide stud at the position. As a team, New Orleans is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry this season, with former first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram averaging a paltry 1.8 yards per attempt. Ingram has been nursing a foot injury and sat out the game against Arizona on Sunday. Pierre Thomas is New Orleans’ most productive running back, but it’s Sproles who possesses the most game-breaking ability.

THE SAINTS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: Along with hiring Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and switching to a 3-4 scheme, the biggest changes in the Saints defense have come in the secondary. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was signed as a free agent after he had a solid season with Pittsburgh in 2012 and New Orleans’ first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft was used on Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. In the early going, the results have been very good. After ranking last in the NFL in pass defense in 2012, the Saints were fourth after three weeks this season. Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Arizona completed only 54.7 percent of their passes against the Saints, who have allowed only three touchdown passes and have four interceptions. Cameron Jordan — not to be confused with Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron — leads the New Orleans pass rush and has three sacks on the season.

THE SAINTS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: While the Saints have been very good in pass defense this season, their run defense has been mediocre at best. It started with Atlanta’s Steven Jackson breaking off a 50-yard run against New Orleans in the opener before Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin gained 144 yards in Week 2. The Saints are allowing opponents a 5.3-yard rushing average, a figure that ranks 31st in the league. It hasn’t helped that starting nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley missed the last two games because of a calf injury.

THE SAINTS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The game on Monday night will feature a battle between two of the best punters in the league. In fact, the Dolphins’ Brandon Fields and New Orleans’ Thomas Morstead last year became the fifth and sixth punters in NFL history to finish a season with a gross average of at least 50 yards (Shane Lechler is the only punter to do it twice). Morstead is off to another good start in 2013, with a gross average of 47.4 yards and a net average of 44.1 yards through three games. The Saints also have a dangerous kick returner in Sproles, who has five career touchdowns on returns. Sproles had a 28-yard punt return against Arizona on Sunday.

THE SAINTS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Not that many kickoffs get returned these days, and that’s a good thing for the Saints. On the four kickoffs they’ve had to defend, New Orleans has given up two returns of 30 yards or more. Arizona’s Javier Arenas had a 46-yard return last weekend. The Saints’ average of 30.0 yards allowed per kickoff return ranks 29th in the league.