ReFo: Dolphins @ Saints, Week 4
Ben Stockwell reports back on one of the most impressive sights in the NFL - Drew Brees in full flight.
ReFo: Dolphins @ Saints, Week 4
Lessons in growing as an NFL team can be painful. As much as they will learn from this one, the Miami Dolphins will be hurting after a comprehensive defeat to the New Orleans Saints in front of a national audience.
After a close first half which saw the Dolphins fight back from a 14-3 deficit, a mad 10 minutes either side of half time took the game conclusively away from the Dolphins. The experienced and resurgent Saints gave an object lesson in how the best teams in the league take games away from good teams. Having got a stop just prior to the two-minute warning from his defense, Ryan Tannehill threw an ill-advised and ill-timed interception to Jabari Greer, which Drew Brees converted into a touchdown and an 11-point half time lead. This built momentum for the Saints and they made the most of it with a terrific opening to the second half. The Saints forced a pair of three-and-outs from the Dolphins, and produced a pair of touchdown drives of their own. In less than eight minutes of game time this swung from a close, 4-point game to a 25-point blowout, game over.
For the Dolphins, this was a harsh lesson in how the best teams in the league operate and an indication that they aren’t quite there yet, while for the Saints it was a statement of intent that they are back among the league’s elite with an improved defense and the return of Sean Payton to their sideline.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Few Bright Spots in Wake’s Absence
This game provided a rare test of the strength in depth for the Dolphins’ defensive line, with star defensive end Cameron Wake out through injury. As if to mirror the theme for the whole game, there was both encouragement and discouragement for Miami without their star pass rusher against one of the league’s better offensive lines. In the first half, Olivier Vernon made a real nuisance of himself collecting five pressures (1 Sk, 4 Hu), predominantly to the outside of the Saints’ tackles, but collected no pressure on 17 second-half pass rushes. Those five pressures from Vernon accounted for more than the rest of the team put together, with Jared Odrick notching a sack while Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan accounted for a pressure apiece. All of this led to Brees being pressured on only 6 of his 42 drop-backs — only Matt Cassel was pressured on a lower percentage of drop-backs this week. Vernon’s first half backed up a solid showing against the Falcons last week, but the rest of the Dolphins’ pass rush performance in this game only places more importance on Wake’s health and return to the lineup.
Mixed Messages From Tannehill
After his strong start to the season this was a chance for Tannehill to really build and show to a national audience the strides he has made. While he did show that with some solid and efficient passing, his interception started the ball rolling as the Saints rumbled to their unassailable lead, and his fumble on a scramble into Saints’ territory was also converted into a touchdown drive by Brees earlier in the game. Coming up against a defense coached by one of the Ryan twins, Tannehill might have expected to see more blitzes, but he was blitzed on only three of his 41 drop-backs. He completed all three of those passes for 78 yards, going 19 of 32 with all of his three interceptions against a base pass rush. For all of his solid passing to intermediate routes (save for the late Q2 interception) those key negative plays helped turn the game for Tannehill in what could, used correctly, prove an important learning experience as he continues to develop as an NFL quarterback.
Struggling Between the Numbers
Considering the money they spent on the spine of their pass coverage this offseason, the Dolphins might have been disappointed with their performance against the Saints. On passes targeted between the numbers they allowed Brees to go 19 of 22 for 254 yads, including the 43-yard touchdown to Jimmy Graham that put the Saints out of sight midway through the third quarter. In the heart of their nickel defense, each of Philip Wheeler, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons graded negatively in coverage, with Jones getting off to a bad start biting on Darren Sproles’ double move on the second snap of the game. All three of Wheeler, Jones and Clemons surrendered more than 50 yards in primary coverage, with Wheeler the lowest graded of the group at -3.3 in coverage surrendering 7 catches on 7 targets to four different receivers for 87 yards.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Nearly Flawless Brees Steals the Show
You could count the things Drew Brees did wrong in this game on one hand. He failed to get a play sorted pre-snap resulting in a delay of game, and he under-threw Darren Sproles on a swing pass early in the fourth — aside from that you’d be hard pressed to fault his performance. Of his nine incompletions in the game, two were dropped passes, two were thrown away, and one was batted by Paul Soliai midway through the first quarter. Perhaps not quite as flawless a performance as we saw from Peyton Manning last Monday, but really you’d be nitpicking to separate the two. However you slice it Brees was too good for the Dolphins. You’ve already seen his stats between the numbers, outside the numbers he was no slouch either, and you can draw the same result by looking at his intermediate throws as well (9 of 11, 142 yards, +3.7 grade). The sky is the limit for the Saints when Brees plays like this.
Pass Rushing Trio Make Their Mark
We’ve given Cameron Jordan plenty of credit for his start to the season and, after some struggles early on in run defense, he again came into his own as a pass rusher as the Saints established their lead. He Racked up six more pressures in this one to take his season total to 23 (4 Sk, 3 Ht, 16 Hu) after four games. Jordan wasn’t alone in getting to Tannehill in this game however, with Junior Galette (+2.5) continuing his strong start to the season with another four pressures. Galette took the Dolphins’ signal-caller down on three of those four pressures, including his sack which came off a sharp outside move having faked inside which turned Miami left tackle Jonathan Martin inside out. Perhaps the surprise package though was John Jenkins who provided a real presence as a pass rusher in the second half for such a big man, including getting a hit on Chris Carr’s deflected interception while lined up wide of the tackle and running Tyson Clabo right back to his quarterback. The Saints’ defense has been one of the surprise packages in the league this season, taking quickly to Rob Ryan’s scheme and providing an excellent foil to Sean Payton’s offense.
Triplets with a Difference
Marques Colston was 3 yards short of giving the Saints three receivers with 100 yard games in this encounter, as the Dolphins struggled to cover Brees’ favorite targets. All three of Colston, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham caught their passes against at least four different defenders, with the Dolphins choosing not to match up against any of them. Sproles got the ball rolling with his 48-yard gain on a crisp out and up on the second play of the game, and only added to his value as a receiver and a runner with consistently solid gains on punt returns. Working of the slot or wide on 34 of his 54 snaps, Graham got his gains in big lumps, with the biggest lump being the touchdown that established the Saints’ four score lead midway through the second quarter. Miami will be disappointed with how efficient they allowed New Orleans’ passing attack to be in this game, but when Brees and his receivers are in this kind of form it’s tough to stop them, especially when they put pedal to the metal as they did either side of half-time.
– Ryan Tannehill was pressured on 15 of 41 (36.6%) drop-backs this week, marginally worse than the Dolphins previous season high of 34.9% (15/43) from Week 1.
– This was a good game for tackling with both defenses missing only two tackles apiece, and the special teams units adding three more to that total.
– With an adjusted accuracy percentage (removing batted passes, drops etc.) off 88.9%, Drew Brees was topped only by former team-mate Philip Rivers this week (92.3% against Dallas).
PFF Game Ball
What more can you say? This was Drew Brees at his best, and Drew Brees at his best is good enough to take the PFF Game Ball.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.