Monday, November 20News That Matters

Saints shut out Jay Cutler, Dolphins in London



The New Orleans Saints (2-2) shut out the Miami Dolphins (1-2) at Wembley Stadium in London, and Drew Brees tossed two touchdowns in a 20-0 victory. Here’s what we learned from the game:

1. Coach Sean Payton is curtailing his running back rotation and its benefiting the Saints‘ offense. Alvin Kamara was the star of the show in London. The rookie running back was deployed all over the field. Payton isn’t afraid to call runs for Kamara between the tackles, which helps keep the Saints‘ offense balanced and doesn’t give away play calls with personnel (something they tipped the first two weeks). Kamara is a mismatch in the passing game, catching 10 balls for 71 yards, including a shovel pass for a game-sealing touchdown. Mark Ingram got the most of the snaps, but Kamara’s usage should rise.

The bursting out rookie relegated Adrian Peterson to a bystander. Peterson spent almost all day watching the offense from the sideline. He carried the ball just four times for 4 yards. Peterson was even on the sideline as the Saints salted away the clock. Barring an injury, Peterson doesn’t have a role in the offense. He doesn’t catch the ball well and isn’t a great pass blocker (as evidenced by getting run over on his first snap of the game). If his name weren’t Adrian Peterson, there wouldn’t be a question he should be out of the rotation. How the future Hall of Famer handles being a clear third-fiddle will be interesting to track moving forward.

2. Michael Thomas is pushing his way up the receiver ranking. Drew Brees‘ go-to target was unstoppable Sunday, catching 8 of 11 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. Thomas wins off the line of scrimmage, giving Brees easy pitches on slants. The wideout runs crisp routes, which gets him open against zones or man coverage. Thomas’ run-after-catch is sublime, evidenced by a third-quarter weaving first down on a third-and-11 play in which he caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins started rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley with Byron Maxwell (hamstring) inactive. Thomas picked on the rookie early, but no Miami DB was stopping him Sunday.

3. The same ol’ Jay Cutler showed up in London. The Dolphins‘ quarterback threw an opening drive interception in the red zone after Miami had chewed up 8:23 off the clock driving 81 yards to the 4-yard-line. A sleepy Cutler took sacks, held the ball too long at times, fumbled, chucked off-target heaves and played with no urgency. Basically, close your eyes and picture every Cutler poor start you can remember during his Bears career and you pretty much have it. If coach Adam Gase was furious with his offense last week, his head might explode after getting shut out in London and scoring a measly six garbage-time points the past two games. The head coach said changes could come this week, but we saw no significant ones. Perhaps it’s time for Gase to bench Cutler and take Matt Moore for a spin, but he dismissed the notion after the game.

“It’s not time to panic,” Gase said. “We’ve been way worse than this. We want to figure out what’s going on and fix it, that’s really the only thing we’re concerned about … we’ve got the guys here, we’re just trying out what’s going on, why are we stumbling?”

4. The most surprising aspect of the Dolphins‘ offensive struggles was the underutilization of Jay Ajayi early. The bulldozing back earned just eight carries for 38 yards (4.8 per tote) in the first half. The most egregious miscalculation was not handing the ball to the London-born Ajayi on first-and-goal from the 4-yard-line on the opening drive. Instead of riding Ajayi, Gase deployed a rotation, using Damien Williams, and Kenyan Drake early, went Wildcat at one point and even called a zone read for Cutler. Ajayi was fired up on the sideline during the first quarter struggles. After the Dolphins got down double digits to open the second half, the pulverizing runner was forgotten.

5. The Saints‘ defense deserves credit for putting the disastrous start of the season behind them. Dennis Allen’s unit pitched a shutout and has given up just 13 points the past two games. Yes, it’s been against struggling offenses, but the Saints have reduced the big-play busts on defense, are swarming to the ball and aren’t missing tackles. The defensive front stuffed the run, while the backend locked on receivers for the most part. First-round corner Marshon Lattimore is the real deal. Fellow corner Ken Crawley, who has been picked on in the past, had his best game.

6. Dolphins linebacker Lawrence Timmons made his season debut after going AWOL in Week 2 and being suspended last week. The veteran earned a QB pressure early, by running over Adrian Peterson, forcing an incomplete pass. Timmons makes the Dolphins‘ second-level much more stout. He finished with six tackles (second most), including one for loss.

7. Saints right tackle Zach Strief went down in the fourth quarter after getting his knee bent backward. Ryan Ramczyk shuffled from left tackle to right tackle with Andrus Peat moved from guard to left tackle. Strief had returned after missing the past two weeks. With the veteran in the lineup, the Saints‘ offensive line kept Brees clean most of the game.

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