Three keys to Dolphins vs. Saints

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Jay Cutler /

The Dolphins need many aspects of their game to improve Sunday if they want to come back to the United States victorious.

Miami faces the New Orleans Saints in another London, England trip. It’s the fourth time the team has played in Europe and the third time since 2014. After last weeks dismal performance against the Jets, Miami must improve in almost all of their positions. Here are my three keys to a victory.

1) The secondary needs to wake up

Miami’s pass defense is among the worst in the league right now. The Chargers and the Jets were able to do whatever they wanted through the air on the Dolphins secondary.

Through the first two games, quarterbacks have a QB Rating of 116.4 against the Dolphins, and one of those quarterbacks was Josh McCown. The 116.4 rating is last in the NFL.

Phillip Rivers in week two and Josh McCown last week combined to complete 79% of their passes which is also last in the league. To make it worse ,the average yards per pass attempt against the Dolphins is 9.4 which is tied for last in the NFL. That means it is easy to see on film that opponents can attack the intermediate to deep levels of the field on Miami.

If the Dolphins want any shot at winning Sunday, they have to tighten up their coverage down the field. The quarterback on the other side this week is Drew Brees who just completed 76% of his passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina, one of the best defenses in the league.

Brees is not going to have any trouble picking apart Miami’s secondary unless something changes. If not, the Dolphins are in for a long afternoon across the pond.

2) The offense has to take shots downfield

Jay Cutler’s average yards per pass attempt is a mere 5.7, which is 31st in the league. The offense has been made up of quick, short passes which is why it has been hard to sustain drives.

The longest reception for the Dolphins this season is 31 yards. That reception came from DeVante Parker against the Chargers on a ball that Jay Cutler underthrew, and Parker stole an interception away from LA cornerback Trevor Williams. The Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay buccaneers are the only other teams that do not have a completion 35 yards or longer.

Miami is also last in the league in third down conversions at just 24%, including a dismal 1/12 conversion rate at New York last week. The short completions lead to third and long, and the offense has not been able to convert.

On 3rd and 7 or longer, Jay Cutler’s nine passes have gone an average of 4.2 yards. That is not a great formula for picking up first downs.

This should not come as a surprise to Dolphin fans. Adam Gase’s offense during Cutler’s “career year” in 2015 was built on not getting Cutler into trouble, and making it easier for him to get the ball out of his hands quick in order to not throw interceptions.

Through the first two games of this season Gase has been hesitant to have Cutler throw the ball further than five yards down the field on first and second down. This is because nine of Jay Cutler’s 11 interceptions in 2015 came on first and second down.

Gase clearly believed he could still have a successful offense by dinking and diving their way down the field. Let’s hope he’s changed his mind because Miami has only scored one touchdown in two weeks.

It also helps to have a running game, which the Dolphins did not have last week. Miami can’t count on Jay Ajayi to rush for over 100 yards every game.

The good news for the Dolphins is if there’s one week to change this, it is now. The Saints are not much better than Miami in the secondary.

New Orleans has given up 933 yards passing through their first three games. The only team worse than the Saints in that category is the New England Patriots.

The Saints are tied with Miami in average yards per pass attempt against them at 9.4 YPA.

The average quarterback rating against the New Orleans defense is 109.3, 29th in the NFL. Plus, quarterbacks are completing 73% of their passes against the Saints secondary which is 31st in the league, ahead of only Miami.

However, the one bright spot for New Orleans is they have three interceptions this season. The Dolphins do not have one.

The point is, Jay Cutler should be able to attack the Saints defense vertically. Miami should be able to complete some deep passes.

If the Dolphins want to win this game, Jay Cutler’s 5.7 yards per attempt needs to be way higher because if the defense keeps performing the way it has, Miami might need to put up 40 points to come away victorious.

3) Stay Disciplined 

New Orleans has been good at staying disciplined in the first few weeks of the season.

The Saints have committed 12 penalties which is tied for 2nd lowest in the league. The Dolphins have committed 13 penalties, but remember the Dolphins have only played two games, not three.

Simple math tells us the Saints are averaging just four penalties per game. The Dolphins had eight just last week against the Jets.

New Orleans is not going to give the Dolphins free yards and free first downs. Miami is going to have to earn everything they get Sunday.

Miami has to stay disciplined, especially defensively. If they extend drives for Brees and company they will make you pay.

PREDICTION: Saints 38 – Dolphins 24

The offense will look better Sunday because of how bad the New Orleans secondary is, but it won’t be good enough. The Dolphins will keep it close through the first half, but eventually the Saints will pull away. The secondary of Miami will not be able to stop Drew Brees, and he will have his best week of the season. Once the Dolphins fall behind by a couple of scores the offense has not shown the capability to move efficiently and score quickly. The Saints take the game by 14 and Miami will fall to 1-2.