For the first time since Jay Fiedler took snaps as the starting quarterback, the Miami Dolphins are 3-0. The upstart Fins are one of the NFL's biggest surprises through three weeks, despite an offseason that generated loads of optimism among fans and analysts alike.
Many Miami fans will undoubtedly feel rankled by the amount of surprise surrounding the team's perfect record, but the reality is that it was unexpected. Even my own glowing optimism has been dwarfed by the Dolphins' hot start.
However, the Dolphins prepare for their largest test in Week 4 when they travel to New Orleans for a Monday night showdown with the explosive Saints. Led by the perpetually fantastic Drew Brees, the Saints will likely challenge Miami's defense more than any of its previous three opponents have.
Miami's defense is good enough that the game shouldn't get out of hand, but the offense must have a strong game to keep up with Brees and his weapons. That could prove troublesome, given the Saints' new-found defensive acuity.
How will the Dolphins' offense perform when the pressure is on? We got a good glimpse at that answer during the game-winning drive against Atlanta in Week 3, and we'll get a much better view of the answer Monday night. Here are your full Week 4 offensive stat predictions for the Dolphins' starters.
Projected Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Others Expected to Play: N/A
If, after watching Miami's game-winning drive against the Falcons last weekend, you still don't believe the Dolphins have their quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, then you waved goodbye to logic and good sense long ago.
After a game that was wrought with errors for the second-year quarterback, Tannehill took the field with just minutes left and his team trailing by three. He proceeded to shed any previous mistakes and marched his team down the field to deliver the kill shot to Atlanta. Tannehill did what Falcons fans are used to seeing Matt Ryan do.
However, Tannehill must put that season-defining moment behind him and prepare for the next challenge: a hungry New Orleans defense. Rob Ryan has turned the Saints' defense from a laughingstock into a respectable unit, one that is currently ranked as the sixth-best based on overall grades at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
New Orleans' secondary presents a good challenge. Led by defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Keenan Lewis, the team's two highest-grading players in coverage, the secondary has snagged four interceptions and has only allowed one quarterback to throw for 300 yards (Matt Ryan).
The Saints' pass rush has been even better. They've gotten eight sacks, hit the quarterback 11 times and hurried the passer 39 times. That's certainly cause for concern considering the 15 sacks Miami has yielded through three games, but Tannehill has had some success when pressured this season. His overall passing grade when blitzed is 4.1, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tannehill has faced better corners than the Saints' (Joe Haden in Week 1), but New Orleans may have the best overall secondary he has seen so far. Still, as part of Tannehill's continued growth, he will find success against a challenging defense.
Indeed, he'll have to if the Dolphins want to knock off New Orleans on Monday night.
Final Stat Line
Tannehill: 28-of-39, 315 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Projected Starter: Lamar Miller
Others Expected to Play: Daniel Thomas
Miami's running game has been consistently getting better each week, although last week's numbers are slightly deceptive. Yes, the Dolphins had 83 total rushing yards, but 49 of those came from a huge Lamar Miller run early in the second quarter.
The rest of the game was more famine than feast, with the occasional nice five- or six-yard gain coming sparingly. A lot of the fault for Miami's slow rushing start lies with the play-calling. Miller and Daniel Thomas only carried the ball a total of 13 times in Week 3.
It's been said a couple of times already this season, but this might be the game in which Miami finds greater success on the ground. New Orleans' run defense is good but not great. The unit kept Arizona's running backs in check, but Steven Jackson and Doug Martin gashed the Saints for a combined 221 yards in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively.
The Dolphins ideally will want to control the pace of the game and keep New Orleans' offense off the field by pounding the run. However, they may not be so lucky. It's likely the game will turn into a duel between Tannehill and Brees, which will give Miami fewer opportunities to lean on the run.
Still, look for Miller and Thomas to have more carries and slightly more yards than they had last week. Also, this will be the first game in which both runners pick up a touchdown.
Final Stat Lines
Miller: 12 carries, 68 yards, 1 TD
Thomas: 9 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD
Projected Starters: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson
Others Expected to Play: Rishard Matthews
Ryan Tannehill's expected success in this game translates to an equal amount of success for his group of receivers.
Mike Wallace will look to duplicate his success against the Colts in Week 2, and I expect his numbers to jump against New Orleans. The Dolphins would be wise to utilize Wallace in the short passing game, allowing him to use his speed to make plays. This could also be the week we see the long connection between Tannehill and Wallace.
Brian Hartline has two touchdowns on the season through three games, already doubling his touchdown total from 2012. Hartline will get his share of receptions and yards this week, but he should finish the game without any scores.
That's because I expect Brandon Gibson to get his first touchdown as a Dolphin this week. Much like Davone Bess a year ago, Gibson is Tannehill's go-to third-down option, and his big frame gives him a favorable matchup in goal-line situations.
Rishard Matthews caught his first four passes of the season last week, gaining 42 yards in the process. Miami will need to use all of its receivers in this contest, and although Matthews will likely see the fewest looks of the group, he should contribute.
Final Stat Lines
Wallace: 8 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD
Hartline: 6 receptions, 75 yards
Gibson: 4 receptions, 47 yards, 1 TD
Matthews: 3 receptions, 32 yards
Projected Starter: Charles Clay
Others Expected to Play: Michael Egnew, Dion Sims
Charles Clay has been a wonderful surprise for the Dolphins' offense. He exploded against the Colts, picking up 109 yards on five catches, and continued that success against Atlanta last week. He had a crucial grab during Miami's final drive to set the Fins up inside Atlanta's 10-yard line.
Clay is becoming more and more of a working part of this offense, and while New Orleans has been stingy against tight ends this season (it held Tony Gonzalez to three catches for 36 yards), Clay's versatility could prove troublesome. Tannehill should find him for a good chunk of yards at least once.
The backups, Michael Egnew and Dion Sims, both recorded their first respective grabs against the Falcons. Egnew's was good for eight yards, while the rookie's first NFL catch was the biggest of the game. He made a gorgeous one-handed catch in the end zone for the game-winning score.
With Tannehill expected to continue to sling the ball around this week, it's likely each of Miami's three tight ends will register at least one catch. Clay will likely have the most production as usual, but don't expect complete silence from Sims or Egnew.
Final Stat Lines
Clay: 4 receptions, 44 yards
Egnew: 2 receptions, 21 yards
Sims: 1 reception, 12 yards