We've talked ad nauseum the past week about ways the Dolphins can defeat the Saints, and one idea is to keep the ball away from quarterback Drew Brees and a New Orleans offense that is, statistically the best in the NFL.
So, of course, everyone is suggesting the Dolphins should just run the ball. It is, after all, what the Dolphins do best, as their No. 1 ranking confirms, and it's a great way to keep the ball for extended periods.
The critical thinker, however, might look at the Saints defense and counter they are No. 5 in the NFL against the run. So, on the surface, running the ball against the Saints seems as good a strategy as running into a concrete wall.
But since we're "In Depth," as the blog's title suggests we go deeper to find truth. And this is truth: The statistics that paint the Saints as a great run-stopping team exaggerate. Those statistics are based on total yards per game.
And it stands to reason if the Saints are taking huge leads on teams, those teams abandon the run and pass to make up the deficit.
"What we're looking at here is a skewed amount of statistics, though," Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said Thursday. "We're not going to have very much running against New Orleans when they're ahead by 20 points in the middle of the second quarter. You're not seeing many teams running. They're not going to be running it, they're going to be throwing it, just like the Giants did. You're trying to get back so you don't have as much run."
So what do you do, Dan?
"You go back and look at what have people have done in the first quarter when it was tied," Henning said. "[What happened] when it was 7-7 or 0-0? Did they run the ball decently? You have to look at those stats and see if they stopped the run under those conditions?"
Ah, I love homework.
In looking at the stats under those conditions, you should be encouraged if you are a Dolphins fan, because the Saints have proven to be less than stellar. The statistics in those situation not only suggest the Dolphins will run the be well against New Orleans but, indeed, kick the ever lovin' snot out of the New Orleans defense while running the football.
First, throw out the Saints victory over Detroit. The Lions are not good and New Orleans took a 14-0 lead en route to a 45-27 victory. That game was practically over in the first quarter.
The next week the Saints yielded only 3.6 yards per carry against Philadelphia. But before the game got out of hand, up until the point the Eagles were trailing 17-10, Philadelphia rushed nine times for 59 yards. That's a a 6.5 yard per carry average while the game was still close and before Philly abandoned the run.
The next week the Saints faced a Buffalo team that stayed close for quite a while. And the Bills, a good but not great running team, ran the ball well during that time. Buffalo rushed 19 times for 79 yards, which works out to a 4.1 yard per rush average.
The following week the Jets averaged a very good 4.9 yards per carry.
Last week against, the Giants averaged 4.4 yards per rush during the game. But while the game was still in doubt, up to the point it was 27-10, the Giants had gained 62 rushing yards on 11 carries. That's a 5.6-yard per rush average.
But here is the reeealllly interesting thing that jumped out at me. The Saints have faced a Wildcat type of run play six times this year. They have yielded 49 yards on those plays. That's an 8.2-yard per play average yield against Wildcat plays
Of course, none of this will make Gibril Wilson tackle better nor will it sack Drew Brees.
But it suggests the Dolphins will absolutely, positively move the ball on the ground against the New Orleans defense. And they will be able to keep Brees on the sideline where he can do no damage.