Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Saints-Dolphins Preview: A Lot of History

Though they’re in different conferences, Louisiana football and the Miami pro-franchise have had somewhat of an intertwined history.
In 2002, it was a trade with the Dolphins that marked the end of the tumultuous Ricky Williams-New Orleans Saints saga that began with one of the most erratic, bizarre and lopsided (not to the Saints’ favor) draft moves in the history of the NFL. Unloading Williams to the Miami proved to be just as fortuitous of a move for the Saints as the original deal that led to him donning a fleur-de-lis helmet (and soon after a wedding dress) was unfortunate. Williams somehow provided even more drama with his new team, with failed drug tests, a surprise retirement, studying to be a holistic healer and a $9 million lawsuit.
Then on Christmas evening in 2004, LSU coach Nick Saban announced he was leaving to take the reins of the Dolphins.
The next year Randy Mueller, who as general manager rebuilt the Mike Ditka wrecked Saints operation, became the Dolphins’ general manager, albeit briefly.
Later in 2005, Nick Saban would lead the Dolphins into Tiger Stadium to play the first post-Katrina NFL game in Louisiana.
Then there was the most significant intersection between the two teams in 2006, when the Saints, in a Ditka-esque move, bet the franchise that former San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees had fully recovered from shoulder surgery. While Brees has since admitted he was leaning towards going to a much more stable franchise and city, the Saints front office pushed all of their chips on to the table while an overly cautious Saban blinked and opted to acquire Daunte Culpepper.
Four years later, the Dolphins have gone through multiple quarterbacks and a few coaches while the Saints continue to get giddy over the fantasy numbers posted by the team’s greatest quarterback…ever.
At least the Dolphins still have Ricky.

A Closer Look at the Fins

The defending AFC East Division champions are currently 2-3. Though New England last week flashed signs against the Tennessee Titans that they might have finally gotten back into their groove, it’s still too early to write off any team in that division, except maybe the Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins are a running team, ranking first in the league, averaging 177 yards on the ground per game. The Dolphins are also believers in the wildcat formation, and while the Saints have defended against it in two games this season, Miami executes it better than anyone else.
Though 26th in passing, it should be noted that their sub-in quarterback Chad Henne completed 11 of his 16 passes against the Saints in the final preseason game. Henne did well against the New York Jets in week 5, connecting on 20 of his 26 passes for 241 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. While Henne is not Drew Brees, who watched the pre-season game from the sideline, he’s also not Mark Sanchez, and that is a good thing if you think aqua and orange is a beautiful combination of colors.
The Dolphins defense punished Saints third-string quarterback Joey Harrington in the pre-season game, sacking him eight times. In regular season play, the Dolphins defense has been stingy against the run, allowing the third least amount of yards. Miami is not as stout against the pass ranking 18th. They’re tied with the Saints at 17th with 12 sacks.

Overall View

The Dolphins game is one of the six tough games left on the Saints’ schedule. Miami almost added a blemish to the Indianapolis Colt’s perfect record in week 2. The Saints will look to exploit Miami’s weak secondary, though Brees might be limited in his ability to effectively put the ball in the air if the speculated bad weather dumps water on LandShark Stadium.
The Dolphins are going to try to win by wearing down the Saints’ defensive line by relentless pounding the ball. Henne is an underrated quarterback who could cause the Saints’ defense trouble. That said, the Saints’ run defense is ranked not far behind the Dolphins’ at 5th.
The Saints wide receiver corps deep threats Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson are going to be key players along with running back Mike Bell offensively. The front seven will be charged with shutting down (or at least containing) Miami’s potent rushing game, led by Ronnie Brown and followed closely by Ricky Williams.
The Saints should win though it might look more like the modest win in Buffalo than the blow outs against Detroit and the New York Giants(!).

So Sayeth the Odds Maker

Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 7-point favorite. The Black and Gold has yet to not beat the spread this season.

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