If you live in the South Florida market and follow the Miami Dolphins you may think the team is playing the New England Patriots tonight. Thanks to a rather large print mistake by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Yes, the image is apparently real. This on the heals of Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly telling his “twitter” universe pimps that he tried to shoot a guy once and then on local radio said he was going to “Piss all over Dolphins fans”. Yes, he is still employed.
Tonight the Dolphins are in fact as everyone else knows, taking on the New Orleans Saints in a battle of unbeaten teams. For the Saints, a win puts them three games up in their division while a loss by Miami puts them one back of the perfect New England Patriots who held for a last minute victory on Sunday night football against the Falcons.
A lot has been said of this game tonight and many openly believe that the Dolphins can’t beat the Saints. I will admit it’s a rather large uphill climb given the way both sides of the ball is being played by the Saints and the fervor from the home team crowd. I will also say that it’s not impossible. In fact, if the Dolphins play the right type of game, New Orleans could have trouble scoring points.
The first key:
There is no question that stopping TE Jimmy Graham will be the most important step in beating New Orleans. Graham is an incredible talent and thus far in 2013 he has lined up more as a WR than a TE. That creates problems for coverage as the Saints use multi-set WR packages and often throw the RB out of the backfield. More on that in a minute.
The question of how you stop Graham is debated. Many believe that chucking him at the line of scrimmage is the only way to handle him. That in my opinion is false. Other believe that playing back on a cushion and keeping him in front of you is also a viable option. That too would be false in my humble opinion. Meeting Graham 1-1 on the line is asking to get beat. He is physical and strong and once he is by you he is gone. Conversely a 3-5 yard cushion will allow Graham to dictate his route. When the ball is centered Graham will cut left our right at the contact point and the coverage player will likely back-pedal to cover his speed. On the break he is out of position and Graham will catch the short 5 yard dunk that goes for 15 or more.
There are two approaches. The first and the one I am not a fan of, is double man coverage at the line of scrimmage taking him out of the play all together. Those two players can not let Graham beyond five yards or contact is off. The Patriots used this formula Sunday night against TE Tony Gonzalez and it worked. The second option is the one I believe will work the best. Giving Graham a 3 yard cushion and no more. When he comes off the line the defender holds his ground and forces Graham to cut left or right. As Graham makes his cut, the defender contacts Graham hard taking him off his route and out of rhythm with Drew Brees. The defender then stays in his zone and safety coverage directly behind that defender takes Graham 1-1. The Saints offense is quick and fast paced and using physical contact with Graham as he makes his cuts will fluster Brees’ timing with Graham and subsequently taking him out of the go to quick slants Brees will face under pressure.
The Second Key:
Stopping Drew Brees is easier said than done and as we have often seen pressure doesn’t always have the desired affect. Brees can read blitzes easily and knows his dump WR’s but Brees is not a patient QB. He needs “chunk” yards and that makes him throw downfield more than he likely should. He has little patience for developing plays and his first look when it trouble is usually over 20 yards. The Dolphins can keep pressure on Brees without having to run stunts or designed blitzes. Simple adjustments at the line allowing the defenders to play one up instead of gap defense should be enough to collapse the pocket and force Brees to throw when is least comfortable.
The Third Key:
Protecting Tannehill is as important as anything else. The Dolphins young QB is a pocket passer who struggles with blitz pick-ups and tends to hold the ball far too long. The Dolphins line must give him time to make his reads or Tannehill will feel the Rob Ryan defense swarm him. Often. When Tannehill can stand tall in the pocket he can pick a defense apart. If he can roll out of pressure he can also do as well. What he can’t do is stand upright and get hit. He has already been knocked down and sacked more than any other QB in the league.
The Fourth Key:
Fast start. Miami can’t open slowly like they have the last three weeks. They need to balance it from start to finish and rely on their pace to dictate the game. The Dolphins best weapon against Drew Brees is a slow methodical offense that nickel and dimes the defense for yardage while eating time off the clock. A long sustained touchdown drive takes time away from Drew Brees. The Dolphins simply can not match a point for point Saint’s team for four quarters. They are built for stamina. Patience with a killer instinct late in the game but they have to be in the game late for it to work. Tannehill needs to take what the defense gives them and the running backs need to be steady in their rushing attack as well as their blocking. Slow and steady will win this race. Starting the game fast only means to start it out putting points on the board.
The Final Key:
Disruption is the final key to a Miami victory. Disrupting the play at the line of scrimmage, disrupting a rushers attack lane, disrupting a WR’s route. There is only one player on the Saints that can’t be matched up one on one and that is Graham. The others are an assortment of good but not great WR’s who are built on speed more than route running. In other words, the Saints are strong deep but rely on the RB and TE for their short to mid game. The Dolphins should be able to man up coverage on the outside and the slot.
Stopping the RB’s is not an issue on the ground as the Saints are not a team built for running as much as using it to set up the pass. For the Dolphins, stopping the pass catching likes of Darren Sproles creates the larger problem. Sproles will need to be shadowed by a LB such as Dannelle Ellerbe who can match him speed for speed for speed. The Dolphins expect to have Cam Wake and Paul Soliai back in the lineup tonight so the edge rushing should help created more disruption for Drew Brees.
Final score prediction: While I believe the Dolphins can win this game and should if they adhere to the above thought processes I still can’t say that they will.
New Orleans 28 – Miami 20