The second of four NFL games in London has New Orleans playing Miami in Wembley Stadium, a matchup of teams entering their overseas encounter with different types of momentum. Last Sunday, the Saints scored a touchdown in the first quarter at Carolina, the first one allowed by the Panthers this season. They followed that touchdown with one in each of the next three quarters during their 34-13 rout of their NFC South rivals.
Meanwhile the Dolphins scored a touchdown on the last play of their game versus the Jets to avoid a shutout. More than a third of Miami’s 225 total offensive yards on the day were gained during that one face-saving drive.
The Dolphins lead the all-time series against the Saints, 6-5. This will not be the first matchup between these two teams outside of either team’s home stadium. Miami beat New Orleans 21-6 in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in 2005 in a game that was moved because of Hurricane Katrina.
This also represents the Dolphins’ fourth game at Wembley Stadium (2007, ’14-15), second only to the Jaguars (five) in that respect. Miami is 1-2 in these games. The Saints previously played in London in 2008, when they beat the Chargers 37-32 behind 339 passing yards and three touchdowns from Drew Brees.
New Orleans vs. Miami (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Any rushing attack for Miami?
The Dolphins gained only 30 yards on the ground in their 15 attempts last week against the Jets. None of the carries resulted in a first down. In their ruining of the Chargers’ first regular season game since the relocation to Los Angeles, Jay Ajayi piled up 122 yards on 28 attempts. On Sunday, he managed just 16 yards on 11 attempts and he’s also dealing with a knee injury.
The good news for Ajayi and Miami’s offense is that if there’s a defense to get healthy against its New Orleans. The Saints are giving up 126.7 rushing yards per game alone, the ninth most in the league. All three opponents have reached the 100-yard mark on the ground against New Orleans, thanks in part to an average of 4.6 yards per carry (seventh highest in the NFL). So if the Dolphins can find way to unpack their running game, it may make for a successful trip to London.
2. Dolphins must avoid turnovers while the Saints’ defense needs them
New Orleans picked off Cam Newton three times last week in its 34-13 rout of Carolina. Not only were those the first turnovers of the season for the Saints’ defense they also resulted in a pair of touchdowns.
Likewise, in its Week 2 19-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami did not turn the ball over once. That was not the case last week against New York, however.
Matt Haack threw an interception during a fake punt attempt midway through the third quarter with the Dolphins already trailing the Jets 17-0. Jay Cutler was later picked off in the fourth quarter adding to Miami’s offensive woes. Considering both teams are 0-2 when they lose the turnover battle, ball security will be something to keep an eye on Sunday.
3. Balance on offense means success for the Saints
Drew Brees completed 22 of 29 passes for 213 net yards at Carolina with three touchdowns and no interceptions. In the first two games he had averaged 316 passing yards with a total of three touchdowns and a 0-2 record.
Meanwhile, five different Saints – Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn Jr. and Tommylee Lewis – combined for 149 rushing yards against the Panthers. That was more than the 141 the team had gained on the ground in the first games against the Vikings and Patriots combined. It also was the most rushing yards for New Orleans since racking up 209 against the Rams in Week 12 of last season. Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Saints are typically a more successful team when he’s not bearing the offensive load all by himself.
The Saints are elated to have ended their losing streak while picking up a win within the division. They reversed what had been nagging problems, the excessive passing-to-rushing yards imbalance and a lack of forced turnovers, both in impressive fashion. Will playing at Wembley Stadium serve as a distraction since very few of the current Saints were on the team during the franchise’s only previous trip there?
The Dolphins limp into London with their pride bruised. Facing a third consecutive game away from home is certainly taxing. The men in teal and orange do have the advantage in that a sizable number of them have played in the past few years at that venue. That does not appear to be enough this time though.
Prediction: Saints 27, Dolphins 20
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.