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By Andy Kent
MIAMI (Dolphin News) - One byproduct of the extra time off enjoyed by the Miami Dolphins last week was their exposure to a lot more media coverage in the newspapers and on the radio and television airwaves about just how explosive are these New Orleans Saints. There were maybe three days of buzz concerning Miami's impressive 31-27 win over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, and then everyone's attention turned to how daunting of a task lied ahead for the Dolphins' defense.
After the Saints shredded what was the top-ranked defense in the NFL during a rout of the New York Giants last Sunday, their claim to being the best team in the league was elevated just about everywhere. For the third time in six games, quarterback Drew Brees and company put up 45 points or more on the scoreboard in a 48-27 win, with Brees passing for 369 yards and throwing four touchdown passes, but Miami's players aren't ready to anoint him as the league MVP or his team as the Super Bowl favorites just yet.
"With being off for a week and then having them play the Giants you hear plenty of this crap over the last 10 days and quite frankly I'm tired of hearing about it to be honest," said Dolphins veteran outside linebacker and co-captain Jason Taylor, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks. "We're going to go out there and they're going to run the ball, they're going to throw the ball. We're going to go out there and we're going to run the ball and throw the ball. We're both going to play defense and we're going to kick the ball when we have to on special teams, and may the best team win."
Both Taylor and veteran cornerback Will Allen emphasized how statistics can be deceiving when it comes to evaluating any team, and in the case of the Saints' fifth-ranked rushing attack, Taylor pointed out that they have had such big leads late in all of their games that they run the ball more, which can skew some of those stats. Allen credited Brees with being in charge of a high-powered offense and admitted these are the types of games defensive backs get fired up for.
Nose tackle Jason Ferguson, however, has identified this offense as being very explosive and multi-faceted because of their ability to be effective on the ground and through the air. Brees and his receivers get most of the attention, and Taylor believes Brees has earned that because of the type of year he is having coming off of a record-setting year in 2008 during which he became only the second quarterback ever to surpass 5,000 passing yards, joining Dan Marino. But running backs Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas also are dangerous.
"You notice they're getting more yards per carry as you've got one guy averaging almost six yards a carry (Thomas at 5.9) and another guy near five (Bell at 4.4) and when you look at that it lets you know how explosive they are," Ferguson said. "It seems like when you play this team you want to keep all the depth in the back and try to stop them as many times as you can with less up front so when you do that you've got to be good, because that's when they hit you for 18 yards. ... You'll be in better shape that way because that way you can pin years back and go try to get to Brees."
Probably the one coach on the staff who has had the most sleepless nights since the end of the Jets game is defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, and he has already faced some prolific offenses in the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers and the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan. When he looks at film of New Orleans, Pasqualoni has to pull on his hair a little bit and rub his eyes as he tries to find a weakness.
In this type of game, Pasqualoni actually likes to put his defense on the field first so that they have an early chance to make a statement and set a tone for the rest of the afternoon. His players feel the same way, but at the same time, it's hard to deny the fact that the combination of Brees' accuracy with the ball and the confidence of his receivers running their routes have produced impressive results.
"There's no question it's hard now because they can beat you in so many ways," Pasqualoni said. "I don't know if anybody's going to stop this team, you just hope you can do something to slow them down, so obviously you work hard on trying not to give up big plays. We have to improve in that category and we're working very hard at that. So you probably say that you want to start with not giving up big chunks and then somehow, some way, they have an outstanding running game and they're averaging pretty big numbers per game in the run (159.6) so you don't want that to get out of hand and get that out of control because they've done an excellent job of running the ball now, they really have. Their offensive line is pretty stout and pretty strong."
Outside linebacker Joey Porter expects to be back to full speed on Sunday after fighting a hamstring injury the previous three weeks and is looking forward to teaming up with Taylor, Cameron Wake, inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele and Ferguson and the front three to slow down the Saints. Miami's defensive strategy has been to force its opponents to become one dimensional by shutting down the run and it has led to a No. 3 overall ranking.
The Dolphins are only allowing 76.4 rushing yards per game, and that number is a bit skewed because the Jets ran two fake punts for a total of 38 yards. Their pass defense has improved slightly from the beginning of the season and Porter revealed that he and the rest of his teammates on that side of the ball don't plan on changing their tactics.
"Our mind-set doesn't change. You have to stop the run," Porter said. "You really don't want to put it on this quarterback's shoulder but at the end of the day that's who we want it to be on. If Drew Brees is good enough to beat us we're going to make him beat us. We're not going to let them have their cake and eat it too. They're not going to run the ball for 150 and pass it for 250 or 300. We can't let you have both, so we're prepared for that and we're going to be ready on Sunday to do what we have to do out there."
Head Coach Tony Sparano is all about treating every game and every opponent the same no matter the rankings and the records. He is meticulous about coming up with the best game plan to exploit the other team's weaknesses and take advantage of his team's strengths, but he also is consistent in his message that he believes in all of his players and their abilities. This game is no different for him in terms of how he thinks his defense matches up with the Saints' offense.
"I think we match up good with them all around, I do," Sparano said. "I would have to say you would hope - their offensive line is a good offensive line, their skill people are good skill people and I think our secondary is a good secondary and I think our upfront people are pretty good. It should make for a good old fashioned backyard fight."
INJURY UPDATE: Miami's injury report remained empty for the second day in a row as outside linebacker Matt Roth does not have to be added to the active 53-man roster for another 19 days. Roth, who practiced yesterday with the team for the first time in three months, suffered what Sparano called a "minor setback" with an ankle injury that kept him out of today's practice. Roth admitted he was very sore this morning and he will be watched closely by the training staff.
For the Saints, linebacker Scott Fujita (calf) and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (ankle) did not practice and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (hip), tight end Jeremy Shockey (shoulder) and cornerback Leigh Torrence (hamstring) were limited. Defensive end Jeff Charleston (rib), guard Jahri Evans (toe), long snapper Jason Kyle (knee/ankle) punter Thomas Morstead (right ankle) practiced in full.
DEPTH BEHIND HENNE IMPROVING: Second-year quarterback Chad Henne got his chance to start because of the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by veteran quarterback Chad Pennington in Week 3 at San Diego and he is performed well. As sturdy as Henne is, it's easy to overlook the fact that, just like every quarterback in the NFL, he is exposed to some hard hits that at any time could send him to the sidelines.
To that end, the development of second-round draft pick Pat White is even more important now, even with fourth-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen in the fold after coming over from Kansas City in a trade. White is now getting more practice reps than he was at the beginning of the season and is being asked to learn more of the offense and make himself ready at the drop of the hat, and Sparano has been pleased with what he has seen.
"He is ready. He has done a good job," Sparano said. "In the last couple of weeks, with Pat getting a lot of the work, I have been really impressed with what he has done from a mental standpoint right now and how he has gotten through some progression stuff. I really think he has done a nice job. He has great command right now."