3TFO: Dolphins @ Saints, Week 4
The Miami Dolphins have been an early-season surprise, winning their first three games. Though there is still a lot of football yet to be played, and the Dolphins have yet to play a divisional opponent, the team is in a solid position moving forward. Both the team’s management and fans are certainly hoping that the team’s offseason spending spree will continue to pay dividends, and that the team will earn a playoff berth for the first time since winning the division in 2008.
After a trying 2012 season in New Orleans, the Saints look like they have improved drastically this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The team is now 3-0, with two of those victories coming within the division. Most encouragingly, the Saints are allowing less than 13 points per game. Given all of the firepower on the offensive side of the ball, New Orleans will be nearly unstoppable if the defense can continue to limit offenses like they have so far.
Miami Defensive Line vs. New Orleans Offensive Line
New Orleans’ offensive line has done a nice job protecting Drew Brees this season. The group ranks ninth in the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency with a score of 80.3. Right tackle Zach Strief (+8.9) has been the star of the line so far, allowing just four pressures through three games. Ben Grubbs (+5.5, three pressures allowed) has also played well. The group has room to improve in the running game, however. Only Grubbs and Strief have positive run blocking grades in 2013.
The Dolphins’ pass rush has been dominant through three games, and the team ranks second in our cumulative pass rush grades. With the exception of struggling end Olivier Vernon, each of the team’s defensive linemen has a positive pass rush grade. Cameron Wake is hoping to play on Monday after suffering a knee injury this week, and he has been outstanding this season. He ranks fifth among 4-3 defensive ends with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 14.3. Should Wake miss any time, expect to see more of rookie Dion Jordan. Jordan was the team’s top draft pick this past April, and the team has been easing him into action. After totaling just 26 snaps through the first two weeks, Jordan made the most of his 31 snaps last week. He totaled five pressures and earned a cumulative grade of +4.3, making a strong case for more playing time.
New Orleans Receivers vs. Miami Secondary
Drew Brees is once again leading one of the NFL’s elite passing offenses. Only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have thrown for more yards than Brees so far. Tight end Jimmy Graham has been completely unguardable. Graham leads all tight ends in targets, receiving yards, and Yards per Route Run (3.01, only three wide receivers have a better mark). Marques Colston has been Brees’ second option. Colston has lined up in the slot on about half of his routes this season, where he can create matchup headaches against smaller cornerbacks. Colston’s 2.12 Yards per Route Run from the slot ranks third among qualifying wide receivers.
While they are certainly aided by a great pass rush, Miami’s secondary has more than held up their end of the bargain with solid coverage in 2013. Outside corners Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in NFL rating against, while Jimmy Wilson ranks second among slot corners. Free safety Chris Clemons has allowed just one reception in 144 coverage snaps. Most impressively, none of the four have surrendered a touchdown through three games. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins try to slow down Graham and Colston, as each of those players has a huge size advantage over every member of Miami’s secondary.
Miami Passing Offense vs. New Orleans Pass Defense
Ryan Tannehill has been one of the NFL’s most improved players through the first three games of 2013. He currently ranks fourth in PFF QB Rating and Accuracy Percentage, and third among quarterbacks in cumulative passing grade. Brian Hartline (+5.4) has been Tannehill’s most dependable target, dropping just one pass. Tannehill has a QB Rating of 123.6 when throwing to Hartline, better than all but five wide receivers across the league. Newcomer Mike Wallace had a great game in Indianapolis (nine catches on 11 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown), but that effort was sandwiched by quiet games in Weeks 1 and 3. Miami’s passing game has been aided by solid protection; only RT Tyson Clabo has a negative grade in pass protection.
Now one year removed from a disastrous 2012 season that saw the Saints’ defense make history as the worst defense of all time, the unit seems to have righted the ship under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans’ defense ranks sixth in our cumulative defensive grades. Cameron Jordan looks like a star in both the passing and running games, and he leads all 3-4 defensive ends with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 13.5. To put that figure in perspective, J.J. Watt had a PRP of 10.8 during last season’s dominant campaign. Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis have not been elite in coverage, but have excelled in limiting damage after the catch has been made. They have combined to surrender just 30 yards after the catch through three games, and neither has missed a tackle.