Drew Brees, Saints' passing attack bring Dolphins to their knees
Darren Sproles, lined up in the slot to Drew Brees' blindside, faked a route into the flat and then turned up the sideline -- blowing by Miami safety Reshad Jones in the process. Brees waited an extra beat for his scat back to come free, then lobbed one in for what turned out to be a 45-yard completion.
From there, save for a couple-possession stretch in which Miami's defensive line disrupted Brees, the Dolphins found themselves guessing incorrectly at what was coming next from New Orleans' offense.
"I felt like we found our rhythm there mid second quarter," Brees told ESPN after his team moved to 4-0 with a 38-17 win. "We just felt like every time we touched the ball, we were going to go down and get points."
Peyton Manning had his latest moment Sunday afternoon, shredding Philadelphia's defense. Then Tom Brady took center stage in the evening, outdueling Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Monday, it was Brees' turn and he did not disappoint.
Brees hit on eight of 10 passes in the first quarter, before ringing up a quartet of TD tosses over the final 45 minutes. He nearly had a fifth, too, with a pass tipping off Marques Colston's hands in the closing moments. The incompletion was one of nine Brees had in a 30-for-39, 413-yard night -- an effort that former teammate and current Lions running back Reggie Bush referred to on Twitter as "vintage Brees."
"He was at a real sharp level, he did a good job with his progressions and protected the football well," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Brees. "He was outstanding."
As Brees is wont to do, he spread the love through the air, hitting eight different receivers.
The real damage, though, was done by the Saints' old reliables: Darren Sproles, with 114 yards and a pair of TDs (one rushing, one receiving) in the first half; Jimmy Graham, who brought down two TDs; and, as New Orleans put the game on ice, Colston.
The Dolphins simply failed to counter-punch against any of it defensively. One minute, Sproles was smoking linebacker Philip Wheeler in a spectacular mismatch. The next, Graham was leaping over rookie corner Jamar Taylor to bring down an acrobatic touchdown reception.
New Orleans entered Monday night with the athletes to create advantages against Miami's defense. Once the offensive line settled in and started stymieing the Dolphins' Cameron Wake-less front, Brees and company went to work -- starting with Sproles.
"We mixed up where we put him a lot, obviously try to get him some favorable matchups, keep defenses guessing where he's going to be," Brees said. "We do that with all of our guys, formation people to death."
Payton elaborated: "(Sproles is) a viable part of what we do, so it was nothing elaborate during the week. What happens, though, is it becomes difficult to put help over Jimmy or safety help over someone else without possibly isolating your backs. He's a real smart player, so when he ends up open in zones or doing the right thing in man, it's not really a surprise."
At least in the early going, the previously undefeated Dolphins seemed as if they might match anything Sproles, Graham and the rest of the Saints' offense threw up on the board.
But Miami's promising first drive fizzled when John Jenkins buried Daniel Thomas in the backfield on 3rd-and-1. Tannehill fumbled a few minutes later, one of four turnovers the Dolphins' emerging quarterback had on the night.
The first three weeks were full of promise for Tannehill's team. On this night, he and the Dolphins made far too many mistakes to hang with a near-flawless Brees.
"They really deserved to win the game," Miami coach Joe Philbin said. "They played better than we did, without a doubt."
In defense of Philbin's Dolphins, few teams walk out of the Superdome with a win when Brees gets rolling like he did Monday. The victory moved the Saints to a perfect 4-0, the exact opposite of the start they endured during a scattered 2012.
"Everything that could have gone wrong for us last year went wrong," Brees told ESPN. "We're fortunately having the ball bounce our way this year ... but we're also playing very good football."
Amen to that.
The Saints' defense continues to pull its weight, as well. For the fourth consecutive week, Rob Ryan's D held an opponent under 20 points. It did so this time by forcing a season-high four turnovers and also sacking Tannehill four times.
Because of that increasingly potent offense-defense combo, few teams in the NFL have looked as dangerous as New Orleans has thus far this season. The Saints gave Miami a first-hand look at the complete package Monday night. And they did not wait very long before unleashing everything they had.