The Miami Dolphins head to Louisiana this weekend to face the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. It's a meeting between two 3-0 teams, and one that will probably be the toughest test for the Dolphins yet this year. To get a better look at the Saints, I had a chance to speak with Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.
Kevin Nogle (KN): The Saints brought in a new coach after last year's debacle. Where did the Saints find this Sean Payton guy? Okay, seriously, how has the team taken to Rob Ryan's defense? The team is shutting down the pass right now, but are giving up rushing yards. Is that Ryan's defense, or is that a by-product of facing the inept offenses of the Buccaneers and Cardinals the last two weeks?
Dave Cariello (DC): I think the stats show just how this team has taken to Rob Ryan's defense... quite nicely. The Saints have the 4th best overall defense in the league. Here's another awesome stat: they've only allowed opponents to score 14 points after the first quarter. Sure, it's early in the season but considering where they were last year the improvement is huge. And I don't think it's a by-product of weak opponents. They were able to hold the Falcons offense to just 17 points. And even though the Bucs aren't a very strong team, they are a division opponent and always play the Saints tough. What Dolphins fans need to take away from all of this is that the Saints defense is legit. Forget about last year's Saints defense.
KN: Currently, Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more times than any other quarterback in the league, hitting the ground 14 times. But, not that far behind is Drew Brees, who has been brought down 10 times. What's going on there? Is it all offensive line issues?
DC: You nailed it. It's definitely the offensive line. They're really not playing well this season, which is disappointing considering most of these guys are mainstays. The only change has been the rise of Charles Brown at left tackle following the loss of Jermond Bushrod via free agency. The play has been sloppy at every position on the line. Last week they were without their best lineman in guard Jahri Evans, having to start rookie Tim Lelito instead. I'm not really sure what the answer is, other than just play better.
KN: The Saints are 24th in the league in rushing this year. Is that because they are just trusting Brees' arm, or are they struggling to get the running game established?
DC: They are struggling to get the running game established. Straight up. First and foremost, the offensive line has been doing a poor job run blocking. There's no doubt about that. Last week the Saints had to start rookie guard Tim Lelito in place of an injured Jahri Evans, so that didn't help. In addition to all that, the other problem has been running back Mark Ingram, who was ineffective and disappointing in the first two games, averaging 1.8 ypc. Most Saints fans would probably prefer to never see Ingram again. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are definitely not the problem. And undrafted rookie free agent Khiry Robinson looked impressive last week, potentially making Ingram obsolete and reviving the rush attack.
KN: This game is one of those weird situations where the teams actually played in the preseason, and now will face off against each other in the regular season. However, nothing we saw in that final preseason game means anything at this point. So, what lesser known players that we may or may not have seen last month will make an impact on this game?
DC: As I said earlier, undrafted rookie free agent running back Khiry Robinson really impressed last week. Not sure if he'll be active for this game, but if he is I would definitely expect to see him get a few touches. On the defensive side, undrafted rookie free agent defensive end Glenn Foster has been a playmaker. Rob Ryan will definitely be rotating Foster in regularly.
KN: How much are fans seeing this week's game as a chance for the Saints to stick it to the league on a nationally televised, prime-time game, after last year's bounty gate struggles? Is there that sort of attitude with the team at all this week?
DC: Eh, I think we've moved beyond that now. At least I'd like to think so. I'm sure there's a small faction of Saints fans who refuse to let it go but I think we got most of that out of our system in Week 1 when the Saints beat the Falcons. Winning definitely helps to ease any pain. If anything fans are probably most excited about this opportunity to show NFL fans and the league this brand new defense that we had to take so much crap for last year.
A big thank you to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions. Check out Canal Street Chronicles for more on the Saints.
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