This week’s Monday Night Football matchup is a really interesting one. Both of these teams have some strengths and weaknesses that matchup with the other in a very fascinating way. I can explain the matchups but this game will ultimately come down to how they are exploited or minimized and how each team adjusts when in the flow of the game. As cliche as it sounds, this game will come down to coaching and execution.
If you haven’t watched Miami’s offense, you’d probably think they’re a spread offense that slings the ball all over the field based on mass media reports. They’re not. They want to be a run based offense and run a lot of 12 and 21 personnel sets. Miami wants to run the ball first and throw second. They’re not afraid to do either and Tannehill gives them the option to choose. The issue is that he’s limited in weapons.
Mike Wallace can take the top off the defense and Brian Hartline is a solid receiver opposite of him. Both guys provide completely different skill sets to try to use in matchup management. Charles Clay and Dion Sims are receiving tight end sbut really struggles in blocking. Sims basically just let Osi Umenyiora run by him untouched for a strip sack on Tannehill last week against the Falcons.
Tannehill is a very poised QB in the pocket. He doesn’t get flustered. His offensive line is average at best (which is better than I thought they’d be) and his internal clock is starting to speed up because he’s seeing a lot of pressure. The Dolphins have shown a willingness to use the RBs in pass protection but neither Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas are good at it. This OL will be tested all night with multiple blitz packages by the Saints and it will be important for the Dolphins to scheme against it. If they line up and try to win one on one they’ll get steamrolled up front. The best option for the Dolphins tonight, instead of just trying to scheme blocking all night, throw an asinine amount of screens to Lamar Miller.
The Saints are vulnerable on the edges. OLBs Parys Haralson, Junior Galette, and Martez Wilson are not very good at setting the edge. They can be had with tosses or off-tackle runs and I think they could be vulnerable against the screens. This would help to slow down the aggressiveness of the Rob Ryan defense at the least.
Up front the Saints’ Cameron Jordan has proven his vastly better as a 3-4 defensive end than as the 4-3 DE he was used as last year. So good at stacking and shedding blockers and can pass rush when asked to. Junior Galette has also proven he can get to the QB in the first 3 weeks of the season. DT John Jenkins was hard to move off the ball last week. ILB Curtis Lofton is good at strafing across gaps and then attacking when he has a clean shot at the ball carrier. He isn’t very shifty in coverage but can get moving downhill quickly if the ball is in front of him.
On the outside, the Saints are thing at CB. Jabari Greer isn’t a #1 CB and Keenan Lewis on the other side isn’t fantastic. They’ll have they’re work cut out for them tonight. Rookie S Kenny Vacarro has looked amazing so far this season and the Saints are using him in so many different ways. He and Malcolm Jenkins are use interchangeably in the slot to cover extra WRs and have played well. Rob Ryan will move everyone around and create confusion and make offenses identify where everyone is. Tannehill will need to be efficient and accurate in his presnap reads to have a chance tonight.
On offense, the Saints have one of the best QBs in NFL history under center in Drew Brees. His offensive line hasn’t done any favors for him and he’s had to work too much in the pocket to stay clean. G Jahri Evans is active tonight and that’s a major plus as Tim Lelito was not good enough in his work last week.
Cameron Wake is inactive tonight and that could be a fatal absence. His presence gives the Dolphins a lot more flexibility on defense. It will be important for Randy Starks and Paul Soliai to get pressure in Brees’ face to give the defense a shot. Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler are speedy LBs that can be good in blitzing but get over pursue and get washed out against the run. That’s pretty much the theme of this entire front seven: can rush the QB but doesn’t hold up well against the run.
That means Pierre Thomas should see a good amount of carries tonight (unless he splits with Ingram, but I doubt it) and will help keep this offense balanced. TE Jimmy Graham is a matchup nightmare for any team. But the Dolphins have the LBs and safeties that could be used to bracket him and keep him in check. The problem is that Graham is so good over the middle and on the outside. If the Dolphins give him too much attention then they’ll eventually get torched by someone else. This could be a game where Miami tries to take away the middle of the field, where the Saints are so good, and rely on CBs Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll to win one on one on the outside. Grimes has been one of the best CBs in the NFL this season and it could be argued that he’s the best off coverage CB in the league right now. Carroll is likely to be the guy to get picked on. Either him or Jimmy Wilson, who is listed as a backup safety, but plays in the slot in nickel.
Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons are two really good safeties. They’ll be extremely important tonight in limiting Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. Grimes and Carroll don’t slide inside and I don’t think the Dolphins are naive enough to think Jimmy Wilson can cover either Colston or Graham in the slot. They’ll have to find a way to scheme around that. This is why I’m thinking they use Jones/Clemons on Graham in the slot and shade the single-high safety over top of him. Against the Falcons, they were content on using LB Wheeler on Gonzalez and Wheeler was extremely physical at the LOS but that’s not something he can do with Graham. Graham is too smooth and quick and will get over top of him easily if they Dolphins try that.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints offense attacks this defense. They’ll probably run a lot of in-breaking routes off the outside against Grimes but will really test Carroll and Wilson. If the Dolphins crowd on the field, Kenny Stills could have a big night. If Miami chooses to allow New Orleans to dictate favorable matchups in the slot they’ll get smoked by Colston and Graham.
I don’t think the Dolphins can get enough pressure on Brees without Wake for them to sit back in off coverage all night. If Soliai and Starks can get pressure, Miami could force a few sacks and a couple of turnovers, both of which have happened a little too much for Brees this year.
On offense, the Dolphins will need to try to get their playmakers to the edge. Lamar Miller should work the edge while they use Daniel Thomas between the tackles. Screens, draws, and swing routes should do wonders to keep them moving up the field and alleviate pressure on Tannehill. The Saints are going to bring a lot of pressure and from all different directions and looks. Tannehill needs to get a clear picture of the coverage (something he doesn’t always do) and he has to be willing to pull the trigger. If he doesn’t pull the trigger he’ll end up on his backside 5+ times tonight.
I think the Dolphins can hold the Saints in check for a lot of the game but not completely. New Orleans just has too much for them to cover and the lack of Cameron Wake won’t speed the game up enough to get Brees flustered. This promises to be an exciting game. The Dolphins will eventually have to come out of their run base and test the New Orleans CBs.
If I’m guessing, I think Rob Ryan might be aggressive up front with his blitzes but conservative on the backend. This could leave some major gaps in the intermediate passing game but will keep the Saints from getting torched deep. If Ryan allows the CBs to man up on Hartline and Wallace, it will all depend on how quickly the pass rush gets to Tannehill. If it doesn’t get there, Tannehill will have some easy deep throws down the field.
Expect an explosive game. Lots of scheming and adjustments. The Dolphins may come out and just try to run the ball down the field but again, they’re going to have to put up 28 points to win this game. I don’t think on offense and defense they can combine to hold the Saints offense in check and also to put up enough points with an OL that struggles.
Saints may win by 6 or more but this is a game that should still be in doubt in the 4th quarter.by