Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, September 28, 2013 1:28 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees has done his homework, and then some.
The Saints' quarterback even knows what the record of his next opponent was last season, and draws upon that when explaining why he sees this Monday night's matchup between Miami and New Orleans as a compelling one.
"Here's two 7-9 teams that have started off 3-0 and are facing each other on Monday night," Brees said.
The Dolphins "are playing extremely well right now," Brees continued. "They're a very well-coached team, very talented team, who have high expectations, just like us. These are the games you love to play and these are the games you love to watch."
Brees has every reason to promote his involvement in a marquee matchup on a Monday night. He's won eight such contests in a row.
In addition, the Saints' losing record last season looks increasingly like an anomaly that was driven in large part by coach Sean Payton's bounty ban. It was New Orleans' first losing season since 2007, and now that Payton's back, the Saints look like contenders again.
Miami, by contrast, hasn't had a winning season since 2008, so second-year coach Joe Philbin aims to prevent his players from feeling satisfied with their level of play.
"While we are 3-0, there are a lot of things we have to do better," Philbin said, noting that Miami turned the ball over twice, gave up five sacks and allowed nearly 150 yards rushing in last Sunday's 27-23 comeback victory over Atlanta.
"So just from that one game, as nice as a win that it was, there are tons of things that need to get corrected quickly."
In any event, it doesn't look as if either coach has to worry about players taking the field with sufficient intensity.
"Monday night is going to be a playoff atmosphere," Miami linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. "Everyone is going to be watching, so we're going to get their best and they're going to get our best."
Here are five things to know about Dolphins-Saints:
• TAKING FLIGHT: New Orleans' normally prolific offense looked out of synch in Weeks 1 and 2, when the Saints scored only three touchdowns total. That changed last week, when Brees passed for three TDs and ran for another in a 31-7 rout of Arizona.
The Saints racked up 423 yards last weekend, with Brees passing for 319.
• MASKING MISTAKES: While Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is winning raves for his play so far this season, he leads the NFL in sacks with 14 and fumbles with five. He's on pace to approach league records in both categories.
New right tackle Tyson Clabo is still adjusting to his new team, and missed blocks by tight ends or running backs have been costly. In addition, Dolphins coaches say Tannehill has sometimes been slow to get rid of the ball, and needs to improve his ball security.
• GROUNDED GROUND GAMES: Both the Saints and Dolphins would like to have more balance on offense, but have figured out how to win without running the ball particularly well. New Orleans ranks 24th in rushing, Miami 28th.
"While you would love to have the balance ... sometimes you just have to stick with what is working," Philbin said.
There's hope for both teams' ground games this week. Each defense has been shaky against the run.
• ROOKIES RISING: The Dolphins kept all nine 2013 draft picks, and several have played important roles already.
Caleb Sturgis is 6 for 6 on field goals, including five from 45 yards or beyond. Dion Sims has gotten snaps as a backup tight end and his first catch was a one-handed grab for a game-winning touchdown with 38 seconds left last week. Seventh-round pick Don Jones has contributed on special teams, forcing a pivotal turnover in the win over Atlanta.
With top Miami pass rusher Cameron Wake nursing a knee injury, No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan could see his most extensive action yet in New Orleans.
• DEFENSIVE BALL: The Saints' monumental defensive problems of a year ago seem to have vanished under new coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans, which allowed an NFL-record 7,042 yards (440.1 per game) last season, ranks fourth in the NFL, allowing 295.7 yards per game. More importantly, the Saints have allowed opposing offenses to score only four TDs in three games.