Improved unit makes occasional mistakes, but slows down Dolphins
Isn’t it nice that the Saints offense is finally catching up with the defense?
There’s a sentence most folks probably thought they wouldn’t be hearing anytime soon.
But along with Drew Brees & Co.’s biggest outburst of the season Monday night in a 38-17 wipeout of the Dolphins, there was yet another solid performance by a defense that has all but shed the stigma of being the worst in NFL history just a year ago.
The Saints defense already came into the game actually rated higher (fifth in total defense and fourth in points allowed) than the offense (sixth in yards, 15th in scoring).
And it did nothing to damage that status Monday.
“We really played an overall good game,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “We took advantage of the matchups we saw during the week. That’s the way you’re supposed to play. This defense progresses every week.”
And the offense is taking note of it.
“Our defense has really kind of pushed our offense,” tackle Zach Strief said. “You run onto the field after a big stop, and coach (Sean Payton) is going to be aggressive.”
Big plays on third down and even bigger ones resulting in turnovers kept Miami at bay in the first half, even though the Dolphins actually the advantage in yardage (224-204).
Then, in the second half, with the Saints continually adding to their side of the scoreboard, the defense — which couldn’t get to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill early on — made things miserable for the second-year man with three sacks, and what was supposed to be a tight game between undefeated teams turned into a rout.
The result: After four games, the Saints have allowed an average of 304.5 yards and 13.3 points per game. After four games in 2012, the Saints were giving up 476 yards and 32.5 points per game.
And by the way, they were 0-4 at the quarter pole a year ago. This time, they’re 4-0.
Monday’s defensive effort wasn’t always dominant.
But the Saints came up with timely plays.
The first timely play: On their initial possession, Miami had second-and-2 at the Saints’ 10.
But Tyrunn Walker and Malcolm Jenkins stopped Lamar Miller for a 1-yard gain, and on the next play, rookie nose tackle John Jenkins shed blocker and nine-year veteran Richie Incognito and ran down Daniel Thomas from behind for a 2-yard loss, forcing a field goal.
“I don’t run down too many guys like that,” Jenkins said. “But sometimes you’ve got to step up and make a play when your time is due.”
The second timely play: On third-and-7 from the Dolphins’ 38, linebacker Curtis Lofton ran down Miller just inches shy of a first down after the Saints successfully challenged the spot.
Miami seemingly didn’t consider going for it, and instead punted.
The third timely play: With the Dolphins on the move near midfield, Tannehill, whose scrambling was his team’s most efficient weapon, took off, but Lofton made a textbook hit to pop the ball free with, and Rafael Bush recovered at the Saints’ 38.
“That all came from good coverage,” Lofton said. “And then I could see he was running loose with the ball, so I felt I could go for a strip instead of making the tackle. The ball came out and Rafie made a good play to get it. Those are always nice.”
The fourth timely play: Jabari Greer ended another nascent Miami drive by jumping the route ahead of Brian Hartline. Not only did he get the interception, he popped up and went 22 yards to set up Brees’ TD pass to Darren Sproles that made it 21-10 at halftime.
“I was hoping to run a little further than that,” Greer said. “They had run a similar play to that before, so this time I saw it coming.”
Then, in the third quarter, there were sacks by Junior Gallette, Martez Wilson and Cameron Jordan while the lead expanded to 35-10.
Miami did get a TD early in the fourth quarter, matching the Falcons for the most points against the Saints this season, but two more interceptions kept it there.
“We beat a good football team with guys that played hard and definitely had weapons,” Greer said. “Anytime you can get the takeaways that we had and when we got them provides momentum to your offense. That’s one thing that we are proud to do.”