Dolphins Watch

September 1, 2009 10:35 PM

Dolphins D faces stiff test

They've been bend-but-don't break the entire preseason, but Thursday night the Dolphins defense must play at a high level to contain the red-hot Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints offense.

Brees is coming off a season in which he passed for the second-most yards in history, joining Dolphins Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino as the only qwuarterbacks to top 5,000 yards in a season.

And last week against the hapless Oakland Raiders, Brees put on a passing clinic, hitting on 14-of-17 throws for 179 yards and two TDs in one half of action.

In three games, Brees has tossed four TDs, no interceptions, and has an astounding QB rating of 132.7.

The Saints rang up a 38-0 halftime lead on the way to a 45-7 blowout.

The overall numbers from the game are staggering, even for preseason.

The Saints tallied an incredible 31 first downs and 536 yards of total offense -- without starting running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.

According to the Saints Web site, Thomas will not play due to a sprained MCL, while Bush is questionable with a calf injury.

Still, as the Saints proved last week, they have plenty of weapons in their offensive repertoire.

Third receiver Robert Meachem caught a 71-yard pass, and Devery Henderson added three catches for 69 yards, including a 40-yard TD. There was also a Jeremy Shockey sighting, as the tight end caught four passes for 48 yards on the day.

New Orleans is 3-0 and ranks first in the league in preseason in points per game (33), total yards (424) and most surprisingly, the Saints are second in rushing, averaging 163.7 yards per game.

Defensively, the Saints have been shockingly stingy, ranking third in the NFL allowing an average of only 9.3 points per game. The Dolphins are right behind the Saints with a 10.7 average.

With Will Smith and new addition Paul Spicer beefing up the defensive line, the Saints have ranked first in rush defense, holding opponents to 70.7 yards per game.

That will make it tough on a Dolphins running game that has yet to heat up this preseason. Miami ranks 14th in the league with an average of 112.7 yards per game.

The first unit has especially struggled, as Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have combined for 33 carries for 123 yards and no TDs, as the offensive line has not been able to open any holes inside.

The problems haven't been confined running the ball, as Miami ranks 24th in points (16.3), and 29th in total yards (276.7) and passing (164).

Thursday, the Dolphins will have to step up the tempo to keep pace with the Saints' high octane attack.

The Dolphins defense has been solid overall, though Byron Leftwich had a good day throwing the football last week, and it would have been better had he not missed three open receivers.

Rookie corners Sean Smith and Vontae Davis should again be on the hot seat Thursday, and fans will get a better idea of how ready they are for the regular season in this final tune-up.

The starters don't figure to play much for either team, but the Dolphins' first unit defense will still have its hands full.

Also, the Miami special teams must improve against the Saints, particularly on punt returns, where the Fins are giving up an average of 12.3 yards per runback.

These are just some of the things to watch Thursday.

(Photo: Yahoo images)

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