In their most complete performance of this young season, the Saints dominated the game in all three phases. And after further review, they did it all in basically two-and-a-half quarters.
Here are my five takes from the tape:
1.) The Winning 6:18
At the 1:30 of the second quarter Jabari Greer intercepted a Ryan Tannehill pass, at the 8:12 mark of the third quarter Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 43-yard touchdown.
During that 6:18 span, the Saints put away the Dolphins.
They outscored them 21-0 and out-gained Miami by an incredible 132 to negative 6 in yardage. By the time the massacre was over, the Saints took a 14-10 close game and turned it into a 35-10 thrashing. Game over.
2.) Brees the Assassin
Memo to anyone that emails me asking if Drew Brees has lost anything: Stop it!
No, he hasn't lost anything. We are all just spoiled. Period.
I said last week we hadn't seen that signature Brees-like game this season. Well, we got it Monday. Like usual, Brees was his best with the whole world watching. He finished 30-39 for 413 yards to eight different receivers for four touchdowns.
We all take it for granted because of how easy he makes it look. But the way he manipulates the line of scrimmage pre-snap and places the ball with pinpoint accuracy is truly elite.
3.) Spectacular Sproles
It was clear early and often that the Dolphins had no answer for Darren Sproles. His ability to run, catch and return was out in full force Monday night. He finished with 222 all-purpose yards and came up with big play after big play.
He ran the ball four times for 28 yards and of those four carries, one resulted in a touchdown and two resulted in first downs.
When he caught the ball he converted one-third and 20 and one-third and 11. The second third down resulted in a touchdown.
His three punt returns resulted in 44 yards of added field position for the Saints. Those three drives ended with two touchdowns and a missed field goal.
All the things that make Darren Sproles special were on display Monday.
4.) Complementary Defense
Four sacks, four take ways would have been more than enough for this top-ten Saints defense. But what struck me the most was how complementary to the offense their efforts were. During the time frame described above, the Saints defense had a sack and forced two three-and-outs. Only once during the game did the defense allow a touchdown following an offensive touchdown.
I mentioned the Greer interception above, but another timely play came when Curtis Lofton stripped Ryan Tannehill of the ball which Rafael Bush recovered. At that point, the score was only 7-3 and the Dolphins had already marched 44 yards downfield.
As usual, it was pretty basic. The Saints only blitzed four times by my count and were in four down linemen for at least 90 percent of the snaps.
5.) Run Game (Over) Reaction
I'm going against the grain with a lot of my colleagues in the local media when it comes to the ground game. Does it need to improve? Absolutely. Is it paramount to the Saints offensive success? I'm not so sure.
The Saints don't run to win games - they run to finish games. It was evident on Monday when they ran the ball 11 times in the fourth quarter which nearly matched their entire rush totals for the first three quarters.
When it comes to strictly handoffs to running backs, the biggest problems are short yardage situations like the one in Tampa and negative runs. On Monday, the latter was the biggest culprit. They had eight. Those negative runs resulted in a loss of 17 yards.
The general feeling around Saints camp is the way the Saints incorporate the short passing game to backs is essentially like a running play. I completely agree and decided to get some absolute figures to back up this claim.
I'm not sure if an official stat has ever been created to account for teams such as the Saints, but if it hasn't, I came up with the most accurate way I could think of. It's similar to the adjusted accuracy stat on Pro Football Focus, and I called it the "adjusted rushing stat" or ARS for the Saints.
In it, I subtract any kneel-downs and add in any pass play to a back that is caught no further than three yards from the line of scrimmage.
For instance, Monday the final stat line was 24 carries for 68 yards. But those three kneel-downs went minus three yards. Taking those out of the equation, the ground totals were 21 carries for 71 yards. We then add those totals to the passes caught no further than three yards past the line of scrimmage. On Monday, that was eight for 71 yards.
When taking all that into account, the Saints ARS was 29 touches for 136 yards for 4.7 yards a touch.
Point being, while the traditional run game is struggling, the running backs are contributing in a big way to the offensive explosiveness, and I don't see them slowing down.
- Monday was the best game of the year thus far for the Saints offensive line. While they are struggling with traditional run blocking mentioned above, they gave Brees a clean pocket nearly all game long. Both sacks on Brees were what I would consider coverage sacks. He had nearly four seconds throw on each one. That's usually enough time for Brees to fire away.
- I know some aren't fans of his but I think Jon Gruden is pure TV gold.
- So much for those red zone woes. The Saints were 3-4 against the Dolphins.
- I don't know if I'd take another receiver in the NFL over Jimmy Graham right now. With the Dolphins clearly focused on stopping him, he still had four catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns.
- The electricity inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome was truly electric Monday. It had an impact as well, by the time the fourth quarter had come around the Dolphins looked completely defeated.
I'm going to be honest, this game worries me. Short week in a place they've never won under Sean Payton.
Still, I'm sticking with the trend that the Saints will win their sixth straight Sunday game following a Monday nighter at home. But it won't be easy.
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