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New Orleans Saints-Miami Dolphins: Five things to watch

Key matchups in Monday night game

  1. MONDAY NIGHT MAGIC – Since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006, the Saints are 10-2 on "Monday Night Football," including eight consecutive victories by an average score of 36-20. In other words, when the lights come on Monday night, the Saints have been pretty dominant in the Payton Era. New Orleans feeds off the crowd, and the crowd has been primed for the occasion. So there's an expectation for the Saints to rise to the challenge, especially given that it's Payton's first national television appearance since the 2011 season.
  2. KEEP DREW CLEAN – Drew Brees has been sacked 10 times and hurried 14 times this season. That's too many, and the Saints want to slow that pace, if not grind it to a complete halt. So protecting Brees and giving him time to throw is vital. Will the Dolphins follow the blueprint that the Saints' previous three opponents have used – namely, play more man-to-man in the secondary and gamble that they can get to Brees before he throws? The Saints are undefeated, so that plan hasn't exactly worked. But it has proven effective in allowing teams to get to Brees. Quick-hitting passes may be the answer.
  3. PATROL THE DOME – After three games, we certainly don't want to compare the 2013 Saints defense to the vaunted Dome Patrol defenses. But these guys aren't chopped liver. The Saints' defense has allowed just 31 points, has totaled eight sacks and registered 16 hurries, and has forced six turnovers. Those are dominant, winning numbers and all the stops will be pulled out for Miami second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. New Orleans will learn early if Tannehill can stand the pressure and the noise. Oh, by the way – Tannehill has been sacked 14 times, so the Saints' rush should be able to get to him.
  4. GRAHAM FACTOR – Since tight end Jimmy Graham has been doing most of the receiving, expect the Dolphins to try to take him away from Brees. That may or may not succeed. Either way, it should mean increased opportunities for the other receivers, and they'll need to take advantage of the openings Graham will create. The tight end has monster numbers through three games (23 receptions, 358 yards and four touchdowns) because he has been able to dominate any coverage opponents have shown. So it won't be a surprise if Miami simply dares the Saints to go in another direction. Saints receivers have combined for 23 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns and one of them, Lance Moore, is injured. The others will have to step up.
  5. KEENAN VS. MIKE – Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis was signed as a free agent because of this kind of challenge: Helping contain standout receivers like Miami's Mike Wallace. The two played together at O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans and are lifelong friends, so each will want to one-up the other. Controlling Wallace, a speedster, will be a tough job and Lewis' effectiveness may go a long way toward determining New Orleans' success in pass defense.
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