Saints-Dolphins: Can New Orleans Slow Down Miami's Wildcat on the Road?

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Saints-Dolphins: Can New Orleans Slow Down Miami's Wildcat on the Road?
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be preaching gap control this week in practice as the Saints prepare to face the NFL's most efficient version of the Wildcat formation in Miami.

Miami introduced the Wildcat formation to the NFL last season in their 38-13 week three victory over New England.

The formation, which is often imitated but never duplicated, involves a direct snap to a running back (often Ronnie Brown). The running back then reads the defense and decides if he is going to hand the ball off to a runner on a sweep (often Ricky Williams) or keep it himself.

The defenses that generally struggle against the Wildcat are those that miss tackles and/or blow gap assignments.


How has Wildcat been used this season

Unfortunately for the Saints, veteran linebacker Scott Fujita will likely be ruled out of this game after suffering a calf injury last week against the New York Giants.

Backup Troy Evans has been taking reps with the first unit this week in practice.

Fujita is fifth on the team with 22 tackles.

Brown and Williams form what is arguably the best backfield duo in the league. They have combined for 759 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in five games.

The Dolphins were last year's surprise team, as they went 11-5 and won the AFC East one year after finishing 1-15.

Miami has won two games in a row after starting the season 0-3.

 

Two reasons for the Dolphins' slow start:

1) Turnover margin — Miami had a league-best plus-17 turnover margin last season. Chad Pennington threw just seven interceptions, while the secondary forced 18 of them.

This year the Dolphins sit a minus-3 and have recorded just three interceptions on defense.

If you remove the spectacular six-sack, three-interception game against Buffalo, Miami has just six sacks and zero interceptions in four games.

Buffalo, though, has a terrible offensive line that is on pace to allow 50 sacks and countless quarterback hits this season.

2) Yards per play — Last season, the Dolphins were seventh in the league with 5.7 yards per play. This year, they are 22nd in the league at 5.0 yards per play.

By contrast, New Orleans is third in the league with 6.4 yards per play.

The Dolphins have improved, though, with Chad Henne under center.

Miami has averaged 5.5 yards per play in the past two games after averaging 4.65 yards per play over the first three games.


Three matchups to watch

1) Marques Colston vs. Dolphins' cornerbacks

Colston is proving that is fully recovered from last year's injuries.

He is on pace to record 80 receptions, 1260 yards, and 13 touchdowns in an offense that prides itself in spreading the ball around.

The Saints scored seven touchdowns with seven different players—including Colston—last week against the Giants.

Dolphins' corners Will Allen and rookie Sean Smith must get physical with Colston and not give him a free release if they hope to be successful in slowing him down.

Smith, at 6'3" and 214 lbs., has rare size for an NFL cornerback and the ability to go toe-to-toe with the 6'4" Colston.

 

2) Jermon Bushrod vs. Jason Taylor and Joey Porter

It seems I have Bushrod in my key matchups every week ,and he always comes through for the Saints.

He did a fantastic job in handling Giants' defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Now, Bushrod must handle these blitzing linebackers in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme. I expect Taylor and Porter to move around from play to play in order to confuse the still young and inexperienced left tackle.

 

3) Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams vs. New Orleans' front seven

I've talked about the Wildcat enough that I can't leave this put of my matchups to watch.

I expect the Dolphins to treat this game similar to how they treated their game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Miami realized that the best way to stop Peyton Manning is to keep him off the field.

Mission accomplished...sort of.

In their week two meeting, the Dolphins used their potent running game to eat 45:07 off the clock. It was not enough, however, as Manning engineered a late drive to score the game-winning touchdown with just over three minutes left.

Since the Dolphins' middle-of-the-pack pass defense likely won't stop Drew Brees and his receivers, the Dolphins will have to use their offense to keep the Saints on the sidelines.

New Orleans can expect a heavy dose of Brown and Williams. The two have combined for 68 carries, 342 rushing yards, and five touchdowns over the last two games.

 

The Saints will win if...

1) They force the Dolphins to start inside their own 30-yard line.

Miami has scored eight offensive touchdowns in their past two games. Six of those touchdown drives started at the 30-yard line or better.

New Orleans' kick and punt coverages have been their weak links this season and could be exposed by Patrick Cobbs and Ted Ginn, Jr.

2) They force Miami to commit multiple turnovers.

As mentioned earlier, Miami's turnover margin is nowhere near what it was last season. New Orleans' turnover margin is also nowhere it was last season.

The Saints, minus-4 last year, are plus-9 this year and have forced at least two turnovers in each game.

Roman Harper's strip-sack of Eli Manning helped to push a 27-17 lead to a commanding 34-17 lead.

3) Exploit Miami's outside pass rush.

Drew Brees can count on linebackers Taylor and Porter to rush on just about every play.

Therefore, the flats should be should be open for Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas all game long.

 

Predictions

Drew Brees will extend his streak of games without an interception to four. His career-best streak is five games.

Brees will also throw for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

The Saints will set a season-low for rushing yards in a game. Their current season-low was set last week with 124 against the Giants.

Miami has the league's third-ranked rush defense.

Darren Sharper will intercept Chad Henne once. My guess is that Sharper is still upset he had two interceptions taken away from him last week.

The first one was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty. The second one was lost when Mario Mannigham snatched the ball away from him for a touchdown.

New Orleans 30, Miami 16

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