Saints vs. Dolphins 2013 game preview: New Orleans, Miami unsettled at running back

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints will visit the Dolphins for their final tuneup before the start of the 2013 regular season. The last game of the preseason can often be a snoozer, but both teams will kick off with unsettled questions at running back.

The NFL offseason is finally coming to its merciful end. Rejoice! On Thursday, the New Orleans Saints will head east to play the Miami Dolphins for one of 16 preseason matchups taking place. The teams will set their 53-man rosters Saturday, then it's just five days until next Thursday, when the Baltimore Ravens play the Denver Broncos in the first real game of NFL football since February.

The Dolphins and the Saints are already looking ahead to their regular season openers for the most part, and will be looking to escape Thursday night's game with a strong bill of health just like every other team in the league. That said, that doesn't mean there aren't a few things to keep an eye on. In particular, both teams are sporting unsettled depth charts at running back.

Meet the Dolphins

The Dolphins still have a few things to take care of on offense, after averaging 20 points per game over their first four preseason games. The team could still use a go-to tight end, though there doesn't appear to be anyone of the same caliber of Dustin Keller among Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, Dion Sims and Kyle Miller. The running back situation also remains unsettled. Lamar Miller is the starter, ostensibly, but Daniel Thomas has hung tough throughout preseason.

The Dolphins have been stronger on defense, even without Dion Jordan, who has missed the last two weeks due to a setback with his shoulder. The Dolphins have an improved secondary and a deep linebacker corps. If the defensive line can stay healthy, opponents could have a difficult time scoring on Miami this season.

Meet the Saints

The Saints are one win away from an undefeated preseason, and unsurprisingly, it has been the passing game that has shined. Through three games, the Saints' quarterback corps has thrown seven touchdown passes to just two interceptions. In the running game, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas were largely quiet until last week's win over the Houston Texans. They should continue to battle for touches into the regular season.

The Saints' defense has been a revelation compared to last year's all-time dismal unit. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders were stuffed when they faced the Saints, providing the team some grace for bending against the Texans. The Saints' next trick will be getting healthy. The team is still waiting for linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette to come back from injury, not to mention Victor Butler.

Local Takes: Dolphins

Kevin Nogle at Dolphins blog The Phinsider breaks down the team's injury report, and gives some good news on rookie defensive end Dion Jordan:

Dion Jordan, defensive end: Jordan has been out of practice for a little over two weeks now, and has missed the last two games as well.  The common speculation at this point is either the team is being overly cautious about Jordan's surgically repaired shoulder, or the third overall pick re-injured that shoulder somehow.  Jordan was back at practice today, taking part in the individual drills.  He may not be ready for the regular season opener, but he is beginning to progress toward a full return.

Local Takes: Saints

Ricky Tiernan at Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles has a bone to pick with the special teams.

You must be concerned about the special teams play over all three preseason games to date. It's horrible and maddening. This cannot go on. I won't bore you, or drive you to stick stakes into your own chest. But heads must roll and this special teams cannot be allowed to continue as is. It's simple. If corrections are not made, this WILL cost the Saints games. I have read calls on Twitter for the firing of special teams coach Greg McMahon. Okay, but that is not going to solve any problems this close to the regular season. 500 lashes with a bamboo pole, however, I could agree to. But coach Payton better address this in the next five seconds.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Phinsider and Canal Street Chronicles, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@thephinsider

@CSCtweet

@chrisperk -- Dolphins beat writer

@LarryHolder -- Saints beat writer

Prediction

Vegas seems to like the Dolphins by a relatively wide margin -- six points -- considering it's a preseason game, so maybe they know something.

Prediction: Dolphins 25, Saints 19

Odds

The Dolphins are surprisingly big favorites in this matchup. The home is favored by 6 points by most sports books, according to Oddsshark.com.

Next Week

The regular season is finally here! The Dolphins will hit the road to play the Cleveland Browns next Sunday for their season opener. The Saints will be at home that day, hosting the Atlanta Falcons.

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