ATL: What We Learned  

 

What we learned Monday: Dolphins' flaws exposed

Rob Ryan's defense exposed the Miami Dolphins' fatal flaw in the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 victory Monday night.

Between a struggling offensive line and poor blitz pickup by the running backs, the 3-1 Dolphins cannot protect the quarterback.

As high as we are on Ryan Tannehill's prospects, he's beginning to show disturbing tendencies toward sacks and fumbles reminiscent of a young Dave Krieg or Ben Roethlisberger. At the quarter-season mark, the Dolphins QB leads the NFL in both categories.

Although Tannehill has shown tangible signs of progress in the form of game-winning drives, pre-snap reads and improved third-down play, he's also on pace for 20 interceptions, 24 fumbles and 72 sacks.

If Miami is serious about a playoff run this season, Tannehill has to cut down on the negative plays whether it's by getting rid of the ball faster or receiving tighter protection up front.

Here's what else we learned in Monday night's game:

1. For all of the hype surrounding the NFL's wave of great young quarterbacks, the old guard of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is a combined 12-0 with a collective 109.5 passer rating through the first quarter of the season.

2. Saints coach Sean Payton gave a clinic on playing with the lead in today's NFL. Rather than take the air out of the ball and beg the clock to run out, Payton kept the pedal to the metal and buried the Dolphins in an avalanche of points. It's impossible to measure how much this team missed his in-game coaching last season.

3. If the Saints have a weakness, it's an offensive line that too often loses the battle of the trenches in the ground attack. They haven't had a running back top 45 yards in a game and are averaging a paltry 3.35 yards per carry on the season. In the Saints' defense, the Dolphins' defensive line is nasty.

4. Defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette are "making the leap" for the Saints, while rookie Kenny Vaccaro has drawn comparisons to a young Troy Polamalu and Rodney Harrison. Don't forget defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker, who has been a pocket pusher up the gut. Ryan's defense brings the heat.

5. Matchup nightmare Jimmy Graham is on pace for 108 receptions, 1,832 yards and 24 touchdowns in a contract year. He's going to make Rob Gronkowski's tight end-record $8.83 million annual average look like small potatoes.

6. Mike Wallace helps the Dolphins' offense by drawing extra defensive attention, but he's now been ineffective as the alleged No. 1 receiver in three of four games. He dropped a deep pass in tight coverage, had an illegal formation penalty and caused an interception by stopping short on a route.

7. Lamar Miller still has a tendency to break too many runs to the outside, but he was off to his most impressive start before the Dolphins abandoned the run just after halftime. Daniel Thomas, on the other hand, continues to play like a second-round bust.

8. I watched every one of Brandon Gibson's 82 targets from last year during the offseason. Not once did he show the kind of juice that allowed him to blow past Saints defenders on a 28-yard catch-and-run Monday night. It's something to monitor going forward.

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