Feeling it: Saints quarterback Drew Brees insisted that the Saints still haven’t played their best game and still have plenty of work to do. At the same time, he was willing to admit that the Saints (4-0) are feeling some similarities to their Super Bowl season of 2009, when they started 13-0. In both cases, the Saints were eager to bounce back after missing the playoffs. And in both cases, they were starting fresh with a fiery new defensive coordinator (this time Rob Ryan).
"I'd say there's some similarities in regards to the type of offseason we’ve had, as competitive as it was," Brees said. "Just that feeling: 'Man, we can’t wait to get on the field and then show ourselves, show people what we're about' and continue to gain confidence and continue to get a little bit better each and every game, too."
ESPN columnist Ashley Fox chronicled how much it has meant to have coach Sean Payton back from his season-long suspension.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham also referenced that passion Brees described, saying that a lot of players came into this season with chips on their shoulders. "Or bricks, you could say," Graham said.
Tough road ahead: Just as quickly, though, Brees pointed out that it doesn’t get any easier for the Saints over the next two weeks. They have a quick turnaround game at the Chicago Bears (3-1) on Sunday, followed by another road game at the New England Patriots (4-0).
"We've got a tough road ahead," Brees said. "We’re at Chicago here on a short week, and they’re coming off a tough loss [to the Detroit Lions]. They're gonna be ready to play us, no doubt. And we've struggled there, to be honest with you [three straight losses in the 2006 playoffs and ’07 and ’08 regular seasons]."
Defense stays strong: The Saints offense took center stage Monday night, but the revamped defense continued to come up big. Cornerback Jabari Greer's interception and linebacker Curtis Lofton's forced fumble in the first half were two of the biggest plays of the game. Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins made a big-time run stuff on third-and-1 to force Miami to settle for an early field goal. And in the second half, the Saints' defense decimated the Dolphins while they were trying to play from way behind (four sacks and two more interceptions).
The Saints gave up more yards than usual in the first half in the run game and allowed an underneath throw to turn into a 50-yard gain. But once again, they didn't let deep balls get over their heads.
Run game still weak: Once again, the Saints ran nowhere in the first half, when their running backs had a total of 5 yards on seven carries. Neither Pierre Thomas nor Khiry Robinson was immune when they tried to run up the middle. Thomas lost 2 yards on second-and-10 and lost 3 yards on second-and-1. And Robinson lost 3 yards on first-and-10.
The Saints adapted with draw plays and screen passes, etc. -- always their most effective change-of-pace plays. But they need to find a way to make the traditional power runs work.