Currently the Saints are favored by 6.5 at home in a game in which the Dolphins, despite a hot start against a tough slate of opponents, aren't expected to come out victorious.
However, anything can happen on any given Sunday (er, Monday night).
Usually it's the matchups that make the game, and today we're going to look at the best individual matchups between these two teams and what is needed on Miami's end in order to ensure that the Dolphins make it out of New Orleans with a 4-0 mark.
Dolphins CB Brent Grimes vs. Saints WR Marques Colston
The first matchup highlighted is a familiar one between two former NFC South competitors.
Brent Grimes and Marques Colston know each other fairly well, with Grimes facing off against the Saints six times in his career, primarily covering Colston.
Grimes' Falcons had a 1-5 record against the Saints, but Grimes himself produced two interceptions against New Orleans. In those same six games, Colston caught three touchdowns and averaged 5.5 receptions and 63 receiving yards.
So it would appear fairly safe to say advantage Dolphins here, right? Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, since the Dolphins usually keep Grimes at left cornerback (covering the right wide receiver), while the Saints line up Colston at different points of the field throughout the game.
Here against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he lines up on the right.
Later on, Colston is lined up in the slot.
Same game, in a later drive, Colston is now lined up on the left.
I'd recommend that the Dolphins line up Grimes wherever Colston goes simply to prevent another situation like what occurred with Atlanta's Julio Jones in Week 3. When Jones was covered by Grimes, he was held to three catches for 32 yards.
Against everyone else, the Falcons' start wideout caught six passes for 83 yards.
If Grimes is on Colston the whole game, it's likely that you won't see him run roughshod over the Dolphins' secondary the same way that Jones did. Miami however will likely keep Grimes on the left side, and put Nolan Carroll on Colston from time to time.
And Colston should get his yards against Carroll. But when the Saints get into the red zone, expect Grimes to be stuck on the Saints' big receiver. In that situation, you can say advantage Miami.
Dolphins RT Tyson Clabo vs. Saints Defensive End Akiem Hicks
Hicks is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme, as DE already has a sack and five tackles on the season. He's also done an excellent job clearing the way for New Orleans' linebackers to get to the quarterback with ease. (New Orleans has recorded eight sacks so far this season.)
And getting to the quarterback with ease should continue for Hicks and his defensive mates when they line up against Dolphins Tyson Clabo. The right tackle has struggled thus far in 2013 and has shown to be the weakest link on what is Miami's weakest unit.
Has Clabo been the worst of the offensive linemen? From watching the game it appears that he gets beat more often than anyone else on the team thus far, and has been maddening to watch at times.
That's why his matchup with Hicks is the one to keep an eye on. Much like Grimes, Clabo is very familiar with the Saints; how Clabo handles Ryan's aggressive schemes and tactics will determine how often Tannehill can throw from a clean pocket, as most of the pressure the second-year QB has faced in 2013 has come from Clabo's side.
Dolphins DE Dion Jordan vs. Saints RT Zach Strief
I'm not entirely sure how often these two players will match up, given Cameron Wake's uncertain status going into the weekend. If it were Cameron Wake vs. Zach Strief, I'd say that it would be a compelling matchup to watch too, as Strief has done a great job of protecting Drew Brees.
Wake wants to play against the Saints, but whether he does will be up to the Dolphins' coaches and medical staff. I'm going to err on the side of caution and say that Wake isn't the lineup, giving Dion Jordan his first ever NFL start.
Honestly, I'd start Jordan on Monday night in either case and line him up as the right defensive end instead of Olivier Vernon or only use Wake on passing downs (which against New Orleans feels like every down). You drafted Jordan as a pass-rusher, this is the game to start him as such.
Should Strief draw Jordan as his assignment Monday night, he will taking on a player who appears to be getting acclimated to the NFL. Jordan is coming off the best game of his young career. He didn't record any sacks, but he was in the Falcons' backfield throughout the game, recording four hurries and a hit on Matt Ryan.
It was Jordan's pressure on Ryan that forced the game-winning interception too.
In that game Jordan rushed from the right side, but if he starts against the Saints, he likely will be matched up with Strief. The veteran Strief has proven to be a solid pass-protector, but against the young, fast and athletic Jordan, he will have his hands full (just as he would against Wake).
Will Jordan be able to step up to the challenge? The hope is that a healthy Wake will keep Dolphin fans from having to find out.
Dolphins vs. Superdome Crowd
New Orleans on a Monday night is one of the toughest places for any team in the NFL to play. This has been especially true since the time Drew Brees took over in 2006 as the Saints quarterback. During that time frame, the Saints are 11-2 in prime time games played at the Superdome (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights).
Miami, meanwhile, hasn't won a game in prime time since defeating the Carolina Panthers in 2009, going 0-6 since.
An already big challenge for the Dolphins is made bigger by these daunting numbers, but the key to victory for Miami is this: being able respond well to a loud stadium under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Don't lose composure should you fall behind early or the Saints make a big play. It will be critical for the Dolphins to maintain the discipline they have shown in the first three games of the season.
If Miami can do that, they will be in a great position to leave New Orleans with a victory.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
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