After an impressive win at Charlotte, North Carolina over their NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers, the (1-2) New Orleans Saints are now overseas in London, England and are practicing and preparing to take on the (1-1) Miami Dolphins in Week #4 of their NFL schedule this coming Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
Saints fans will need to wake up rather early to catch this match-up, as the two teams will square off at 2:30 p.m., local time over in England, or 9:30 a.m. (yes in the morning time) Eastern and 8:30 a.m. for those living in Louisiana and the surrounding area (you better brew an extra pot of coffee and bake an extra few biscuits).
The Saints are coming from a 34-13 victory this past Sunday in which they played much more like the team that we knew they were capable of being in comparison to their first 2 games of the season (both losses), as QB Drew Brees completed 22 of 29 passes for 220 yards and 3 TD's and no interceptions.
Brees spread the ball around to a variety of different receivers against the Panthers, despite the absence of #2 WR Willie Snead -- who has now re-joined the team and is expected to get the start on the side opposite of #1 WR Michael Thomas.
Thomas was the focal point of the Saints passing attack against the Panthers, as Brees connected with Thomas for 5 receptions in the 1st quarter alone and set the early tone for the Saints passing attack.
Thomas finished with 87 yards and a TD on 7 receptions; while veteran WR Ted Ginn Jr. added 44 yards and a TD on 2 catches.
Brees was also backed by a solid rushing attack as RB Mark Ingram led the way with 56 yards on 14 carries; while Alvin Kamara added 37 yards and a TD.
But as balanced as the Saints offense was, it was their defense that carried the day at Carolina.
After being outright embarrassed in the first 2 losses by the Vikings and Patriots, the Saints were able to completely "shut down" Panthers QB and former League MVP Cam Newton, who had one of the worst performances of his entire NFL career with a 17 of 28 performance for 167 yards with three interceptions and a 43.8 passer rating.
The Saints defensive line also registered 4 sacks, and despite yielding some big chunks of yardage to Panthers RB's Jonathan Stewart in the running game and rookie sensation Christian McCaffrey in the short passing game out of the backfield (McCaffrey had 9 receptions for 101 yards), essentially stymied the entire Panthers offense for a majority of the afternoon.
So as New Orleans prepares to face Miami at London's iconic Wembley Stadium in 5 more days from now, the question becomes: can the Saints continue their quick turnaround vs. the Dolphins?
One thing already working in the Saints favor is that Miami is coming off an embarrassing loss themselves --- a 20-6 loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday in which Dolphins head coach Adam Gase referred to his offense as "garbage".
“A lot of bad football. More mental errors than we've had the last two years. I'll find the guys that want to do it right, and those are the guys that will play", Gase told reporters in the locker room afterwards.
“I’m upset about the way our offense played,” he continued. “I’m just tired of watching it for two years. Just garbage. So, we’re going to figure something out.”
Miami Herald beat writer Adam H. Beasley noted yesterday that the only reason the Dolphins weren’t shut out Sunday was Gase called timeout with 6 seconds left, allowing Dolphins QB Jay Cutler one last shot at the end zone. For a while, they were challenging the team’s record for fewest yards in a game (88).
Cutler completed 26 of 44 passes for 220 yards and that 1 late TD, along with an interception.
When asked by Beasley directly about what he saw on film that he liked from Sunday, Gase responded: “Nothing.”
"It's just surprising, some of the stuff we don't do right,” Gase added. “We basically skimmed it back as much as we could over the last year. Trying to make it so we can play fast and [win favorable] matchups. We're not doing it, so we'll figure out a way to make adjustments."”
Beasley says that none of what’s gone on this year for Miami has been a part of their original plan for the 2017 season, starting with previous starting QB Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending knee injury. But despite losing Tannehill and convincing Cutler to come out of retirement, Gase was determined to run a fast-paced offense this season.
After two weeks in, it's become obvious that it hasn't worked out thus far.
Beasley adds that the Dolphins had issues all over the field against the Jets, and it probably started with the Miami offensive line. All-Pro RB Jay Ajayi had no running lanes, and as a result managed just 19 yards on 11 carries.
So that made the Dolphins one-dimensional, which worked to the Jets’ advantage. New York’s defensive line "teed off" on Cutler, who was sacked on three occasions and hit seven times.
That would seem to bode well for the Saints — who have had a history of success against Cutler dating back to when he was the starting QB for the Chicago Bears.
Gase told Beasley that Cutler's performance was not what he had hoped for against the Jets. "(He played) not as well as I’d like him to, (but) he took a couple vicious shots early. At 34 it’s a little different than when you’re 25.”
Beasley also adds that lineup changes are likely coming for this week's match-up against the Saints, though it's unclear at the moment as to what those changes might entail.
For the Saints defense, the key match-up (and the greatest challenge) will obviously be against the Miami passing attack.
Despite their struggles, the Dolphins feature one of the deepest WR corps in the entire NFL. led by former All-American DeVante Parker, former Saints WR and 2013 draft pick Kenny Stills, and former LSU star WR Jarvis Landry.
Against the Jets, Parker posted 76 yards and a touchdown on 8 receptions; while Stills added 51 yards on four catches and Landry had 48 yards on 6 catches. Starting Dolphins TE Julius Thomas also had 16 yards on 3 receptions.
Will the Saints secondary be able to contain the Dolphins WR's becomes one of -- if not THE biggest -- major storylines of this Sunday's contest.
The Saints are still without the service of #1 CB Delvin Breaux, who can't play until Week #9 because he started the season on injured reserve.
Additionally, CB's Sterling Moore and rookie Marshon Lattimore missed the Carolina game with injuries meaning that once again the Saints will have to start 2nd year player Ken Crawley on the outside boundary, on the side opposite of #2 CB P.J. Williams.
Crawley had a phenomenal performance against Carolina; recording 8 tackles (one assisted) and 2 passes defended and just may have earned himself an extended look for the Saints secondary going forward. Whether or not he will get the start once again against the Dolphins however, likely won't be determined until later on this week.
Regardless of whoever gets the starting nod at CB. this much is evident: if the Saints can generate the same type of overall performance against the Dolphins that they did against Carolina, then they can head into their Bye Week with a (2-2) record.
Which would then mean that a season once appeared headed for complete disaster just 2 weeks ago, could suddenly regain the promise and hope that it previously had prior to the start of September --- at the start of October.
Can the Saints continue their "quick turnaround" against the Dolphins this Sunday morning at the iconic Wembley Stadium in London, England?
In 5 more days from now, we're about to find out........