After a bye week that felt like forever, the Dolphins will get back to their regular practice schedule beginning on Wednesday as preparations for Sunday's big game against the Saints rev up. And with that, our preparations for Sunday's big game will rev up as well.
I already talked yesterday about how some might feel that tthis game on Sunday is this team's "defining game" of the first half of the season. Even if you disagree, there's no way around just how big of a game this is. With that, let's focus on three key matchups. And allow to to point out that the Dolphins did indeed win two of the three matchups I highlighted against the Jets two weeks ago - resulting, of course, in a classic Monday Night Football victory. Hey, I'm just sayin'...
Dolphins offensive line vs Saints defensive line
The key to all of Miami's offensive success this year has been their offensive line's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage. They have shown their ability to just physically dominate the trenches and provide that initial surge Miami's talented running backs need to get going.
However, they also haven't exactly faced top rushing defenses. In fact, statistically speaking, the best rushing defense Miami has faced this year happens to be the Colts - who rank 14th in the league, but themselves allow 4.1 yards per rush. Meanwhile, the Saints are actually 5th in the league against the run, allowing 83.4 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry.
More importantly, the Saints front four is probably bigger and more physical themselves than any Miami has faced this year. Their starters weigh in at an average of 298 pounds and they are a talented, underrated bunch. A lot of Dolphin fans seem to think the Dolphins will be able to just run over every team they face this year with their physical ground attack - especially in this upcoming game. But I'm not entirely sold. Sunday's game is a big test for this unit.
Saints passing attack vs Dolphins secondary
Obviously, this is going to be perhaps the most important matchup on Sunday. The Dolphins have struggled defending the pass and they are yet to face a passing attack that is as dynamic as this one. The Saints can go four deep at receiver, have a talented pass-catching tight end, and have backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have two rookie corners - one of which is a starter - and a very suspect safety tandem. On the surface, things don't look good for the Dolphins.
Drew Brees leads the Saints' 7th ranked passing attack. Sure, the Dolphins faced the Colts back in week two - and Indy currently ranks first in passing offense - and they were exposed despite owning a three to one advantage in time of possession. So some Dolphin fans might say that stopping the Saints aerial assault won't be as tough as it was back in week two trying to defend Indy's attack. But the Saints are much deeper than the Colts at the skill positions and Brees is every bit as good as Peyton Manning.
In that game against the Colts, Sean Smith did a very good job when he was matched up on Reggie Wayne. And on paper, Smith matches up well with Marques Colston - the Saints top receiver. But the Saints have a unique offense and a great offensive mind calling the plays. And I expect the Saints to dictate who covers Colston by keeping him away from Smith's side. Instead, we'll probably see Devery Henderson and/or Robert Meachem - both of whom possess blazing speed - on Smith's side of the defense, allowing the 6'4 Colston to be matched up on the smaller Will Allen.
But the biggest matchup problem probably comes from two guys - Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush. The Dolphins have had a tough time defending athletic tight ends and versatile running backs. I fully expect the Saints to find ways to get Shockey matched up on either of Miami's safeties and Bush matched up with a linebacker - clearly presenting matchup nightmares for the Dolphins.
I'll tell you one thing - if ever was there a time for Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson to step up their performance - Sunday is the time. If they don't, this game could turn into a high-scoring affair - which is not a good thing for the Dolphins.
Chad Henne vs Darren Sharper
The offseason move of the year could very well be the Saints acquisition of safety Darren Sharper. He has been absolutely outstanding for New Orleans and could very well be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year. He already has five interceptions and has returned two of them for touchdowns - each returns of at least 97 yards, by the way. And he's been a young quarterback's nightmare. All five of his interceptions have come against inexperienced quarterbacks - two against Matthew Stafford, one against Kevin Kolb, and two against Mark Sanchez.
Chad Henne, meanwhile, is virtually of a rookie himself. He's making only his third career start. And while he's been excellent in his first two starts, he has shown in the past that he does have a tendency of staring down his receivers. That crap won't fly against Sharper on Sunday. Henne will have to make sure he is able to effectively manipulate the safeties.
The Dolphins can't afford to make any mistakes on Sunday. And it all starts with our young quarterback.