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NFL Preview - Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - Laissez les bons temps rouler.

That's the Cajun phrase which means: "Let the good times roll."

And the good times are certainly rolling again in New Orleans now that head coach Sean Payton is back on the sidelines after a year away from the game due to the Bountygate scandal.

Fresh off a dominating 31-7 win over Arizona at the Superdome, the unbeaten Saints will host the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football" in a matchup of two of the NFL's seven unblemished teams entering Week 4.

A methodical offense spearheaded by All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees and an improved attacking defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan have spurred the Saints to their third 3-0 start under Payton.

New Orleans has improved to 4-0 only three times in franchise history: 1991, 1993 and 2009.

The Saints compiled a season-high 423 total net yards against the Cardinals in Week 3 behind Brees, who completed 29-of-46 passes for 342 yards with three touchdowns. The Pro-Bowler's top target was tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the team in receiving with nine receptions for 134 yards and two TDs and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Ryan's defense, meanwhile, only allowed one score on the opening drive of the game and two entries into the red zone. Emerging defensive star Cameron Jordan recorded two sacks, while cornerback Keenan Lewis, a free agent acquisition from Pittsburgh, and rookie first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro each intercepted Cards QB Carson Palmer.

"It's early but we're pleased with the start," Payton said. "As there is every week, there are some things we want to look at and clean up and get corrected."

The Saints will face a stiff challenge on Monday from a rejuvenated Dolphins team under second-year head coach Joe Philbin, who has Miami off to its first 3-0 start since 2002.

Sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill threw his second touchdown pass with 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter in Week 3, sending the Dolphins to a 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

After Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal wide right that would have given the Falcons a six-point lead with 4:46 to play, Tannehill led the Dolphins on a 13-play drive that ended with Dion Sims' one-handed, over-the-shoulder grab from a yard out off play-action.

"I didn't really think about the situation, everything was just instinctive," Sims said. "The linebacker grabbed my arm so I just reached up with my free arm and brought it in."

Miami safety Jimmy Wilson them picked off Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to seal the win.

Tannehill completed 24-of-35 passes for 236 yards with Sims and receiver Brian Hartline catching scoring passes.

The Saints and Dolphins have met 10 times in the regular season with Miami holding a 6-4 all-time series edge. NOLA captured the last contest, a 46-34 victory on Oct. 25, 2009 in Miami, a game in which the Saints matched their biggest comeback in franchise history when they rebounded from a 24-3 deficit with five seconds left in the first half.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

In Week 3, Brees extended his streak of consecutive 300-yard passing games to eight, a game behind his own NFL record. He has also won eight consecutive starts on "Monday Night Football" and has a 120.6 passer rating in those contests, completing 194-of-273 passes (71.1 percent) for 2,467 yards (308.4 per game) with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

"We are focusing on an excellent New Orleans team we have to get ready for," Philbin said. "We have to do a lot of preparation and a little extra work to get familiar with their schemes and personnel."

Getting familiar with Brees is far easier said than done. He's on a very short list of signal callers -- along with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and perhaps Ryan -- who can comprehend everything being thrown at him by an opposing defense and adjust on the fly at the line of scrimmage.

"With Drew it starts with being efficient, leading his team to opportunities to win," Payton said. "He's someone that's very prepared, very accurate and gets rid of the ball very quickly. The expectation level that he has for himself is very high."

Graham, a matchup nightmare from the slot who leads the Saints in all receiving categories with 23 receptions for 358 yards and four TDs, has been Brees' go-to-guy early the season.

"He's very tall, he's got very good athleticism and very good ball skills," Payton said when asked about his tight end. "His ability to transition in routes and torque his body in ways that allow him to catch balls behind, balls on-top or balls low (really helps)."

"He's kind of hard to match up with, no matter how big or fast you are and I think more so than anything is his fire and passion for the game," Brees added. "He wants to be a great player, he's very versatile, very athletic. I think his basketball background certainly helps him in that regard. I kind of know what that basketball background can do for you as far as body position, body control, your ability to kind of see the ball, go up and get it."

Philbin will need to find a way to slow the Brees-to-Graham juggernaut down a bit. Cornerback Brent Grimes knows Brees and Co. well from his time in Atlanta while the Miami pass rush -- led by Cameron Wake -- really needs to bring it.

Wake, however, has been listed as questionable on the Dolphins' injury report due to a sprained MCL. Miami defensive tackle Paul Soliai and linebacker Koa Misi are also iffy for the contest.

The Saints defense has been bolstered by Rob Ryan along with the additions of Lewis and Vaccaro in the defensive backfield as well as the emergence of Jordan up front. Jordan, the son of former Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, leads New Orleans with three sacks.

Ryan's unit is also dealing with some injuries though as defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and safety Roman Harper (knee) have already been ruled out.

The Dolphins offense isn't all that dynamic but they have excelled when it counts. Miami has outscored opponents 41-16 in the second half this season and leads the NFL in red zone efficiency at 87.5 percent.

"I think it's an all-around effort. I think guys are comfortable in the system now, being our second year here," Tannehill said of the team's improved offense.

Meanwhile, Tannehill has proved to be one of the better QBs in the fourth quarter this season, completing 21-of-28 passes for 192 yards in the final frame.

"He's certainly confident, you can just see that," Payton said when discussing Tannehill. "Most importantly, that position, the key is to lead their team to wins and give them a chance and you can see him do that."

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Dolphins look like a legitimate contender in the AFC East but getting the better of Brees in the Superdome at this stage is a little too much to ask for a second-year QB like Tannehill who is still trying to feel his way through the process.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 30, Dolphins 20

09/30 09:02:24 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
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CAR
WAS
 
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BOS
CHA
 
Final
CLE 110
GSW 99
Final
PHO 117
OKC 113
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IND
CLE
 
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WAS
 
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CHA
 
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GSW
 
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ORL
 
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BRK
 
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LAC
 
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MIA
 
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MIN
 
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DEN
UTA
 
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MIL
 
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OKC
 
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KNST 53
NKENTUCKY 78
 
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CITA 74
ETST 73
 
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GWEBB 91
CSOU 81
 
Final
VMI 82
CHAT 86
 
Final
BRY 77
CCST 69
 
Final
PBY 80
CCAR 69
 
Final
DREX 44
DEL 58
 
Final
UNCA 71
HIGH 75
 
Final
TEMPL 66
HOU 54
Final
EKENT 63
JVST 57
 
Final
WRST 58
UWMIL 61
 
Final
MSU 90
MINN 96
Final
RFLSH 63
MNTER 60
 
Final
OSU 81
NEB 57
Final
MAST 67
NEOM 73
 
Final
ELON 72
NE 65
 
Final
LIB 80
RAD 69
 
Final
FD 85
SHU 90
 
Final
UNCG 81
SAMF 67
 
Final
LIU 69
Terriers 74
 
Final
TENN 65
VANDY 73
Final
RMU 91
WAGN 59
 
Final
FUR 53
WCU 49
 
Final
IUPUI 71
WILL 66
 
Final
CAMP 65
WINT 50
 
Final
MERC 72
WOFF 76
 
Final
APP 58
GSOUT 77
 
Final
UNT 81
CHAR 65
Final
MURST 65
EILL 57
 
Final
MARS 87
FIU 69
Final
WKENT 71
FATL 68
Final
ILLCH 67
UWGB 72
 
Final
ORU 74
NDST 58
 
Final
NDAK 75
NARZ 85
 
Final
RICE 54
ODU 63
Final
MON 60
RIDE 63
 
Final
PEAY 64
SIUE 61
 
Final
LATU 77
UTEP 60
Final
SMISS 70
TXSA 66
Final
TENST 52
TENNM 69
 
Final
CHIST 74
GRCN 70
 
Final
UMKC 69
WLVRN 50
 
Final
SALA 57
LAMON 75
 
Final
ARKST 81
TXARL 80
 
Final
ARKLR 92
UGST 83
 
Final
TXST 67
TROY 61
 
Final
COL 54
ARZ 82
Final
PURD 92
RUTG 85
Final
MEM 57
SMU 66
Final
NCOL 77
SUTAH 67
 
Final
MORE 86
TENT 73
 
Final
EWASH 92
MNTST 68
 
Final
PORT 69
BYU 82
 
Final
CSNO 82
CSFU 72
 
Final
IDAHO 92
MONT 87
 
Final
SCU 57
PAC 64
 
Final
UCSB 74
UCD 60
 
Final
CPSL 56
UCI 63
 
Final
UTAH 83
ARST 41
Final
STAN 75
ORST 48
Final
GONZ 59
SDU 39
Final
USF 53
GAELS 84
 
Final
HAW 78
LBSU 59
 
6:00pm Tonight
QUIN
SIENA
 
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CORN
HARV
 
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CAN
FAIR
 
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IONA
MAN
 
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BRO
PENN
 
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YALE
PRIN
 
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MAR
PETE
 
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CLMB
DART
 
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AKR
OHIO
 
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CLST
VALPO
 
Final
NYR 4
ARI 3
Final
CLB 2
MON 5
Final
BUF 6
VAN 3
Final
FLA 0
CHI 3
Final
TOR 3
PHI 2
Final
WIN 1
STL 2
Final
NAS 2
MIN 4
Final
SJS 2
DET 3
Final
LOS 0
OTT 1
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NJD
BOS
 
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NYI
CAL
 
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CAR
WAS
 
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TAM
CHI
 
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DAL
COL
 
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ANA
LOS