Update: Offensive tackle Sam Baker has officially been ruled out for Sunday’s game after this post was published. This is a dangerous blow to the offensive line, and all caveats mentioned below still apply (and then some).
The Falcons got into the win column for the first time in 2013 against the Rams last week, but the victory didn’t come without a cost. The team is very much banged-up as they head to Miami in week 3, and we’ve got your preview here. Let’s go.
Opponent - Miami Dolphins (2-0, 0-0 at home)
Time/TV - 4:05 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
The Falcons head into this match-up without the benefit of having Steven Jackson in the backfield. Jackson has been officially ruled out for the game since early in the week, and that places the focus directly on Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, and the run-blocking offensive line. That running back duo didn’t exactly light the world on fire against the Rams with 13 carries for 36 yards, and it’ll be interesting to see who generates the bulk of the carries in the absence of S-Jax. Rodgers will likely get the first shot, but don’t be surprised if we see more Jason Snelling than you would expect against a Miami run defense that is in the top half of the league during this young season.
Through the air, the Falcons are banged-up, but not to the level of the backfield. Roddy White and Julio Jones have both been limited in practice this week, but Jones was limited in week 2 before exploding for 182 yards on 11 catches against the Rams. White is still hobbling a bit, but it’s expected that we’ll see him closer to full-strength as the weeks go by, and that is danger for opposing defenses. Miami has allowed 280 yards per game through the air this season (and one of those games was against Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden), so this should be a spot where Matt Ryan and company get loose.
One spot to focus on will be the offensive line in protecting Matt Ryan. The Dolphins have 9 sacks on the season (tied for 2nd in the NFL), and Cameron Wake is a monster off the edge. Sam Baker isn’t healthy, and the right tackle spot is still a question mark, so that is a definitely something to keep an eye on throughout Sunday afternoon.
Falcons Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
My tendency is to say that this is an “easier” match-up, as Ryan Tannehill heads up the Miami offense, but he’s been surprisingly competent this season. Through 2 games, the former Texas A&M quarterback has only 1 interception, and has thrown for 591 yards with a 94.1 QB rating. He’s certainly not that competent, but it would be nice to see Asante Samuel arrive for some reinforcements in the secondary.
On the ground, running back Lamar Miller was woeful in week 1, but he was very effective (14 carries for 69 yards) against the Colts in week 2, and there is talent there. The Falcons are currently in the top-10 against the run, but that could easily be smoke and mirrors, as they’ve faced off with the pass-first Saints, and a Rams team that was trailing big from the opening half on.
As far as “shut down” match-ups go, it’ll be important to contain Mike Wallace on deep balls. Both Wallace and former Ohio State wideout Brian Hartline are very dangerous, and the youngsters (Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant) will be tested early and often. However, I think they’re up to the challenge, and the reports on Samuel’s health seem to be improving, which should help.
Lastly, this is our first look at the Falcons without the services of both Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann. The Falcons moved quickly to add depth this week, but as a whole, we shouldn’t expect much from the new guys, and this is a tug on the already-existing depth for this defense. Neither guy is easy to replace, but we’ll know quickly if the Falcons are able to generate any pass rush since teams can now freely double-team Osi Umenyiora, while ignoring a suddenly dull linebacking corps.
Overall, this is a dangerous spot for the Falcons. Miami is actually the de facto favorite in this game (just ask Las Vegas), as they protect their home field for the first time after a 2-0 start to the year on the road. There is no doubt in my mind that Atlanta is the better team, but the crowd should actually be lively in Miami given that it is the home opener, and if Tannehill settles in, it could be a long day. With a gun to my head, I’d take the Falcons, but I certainly don’t feel comfortable as this game kicks off.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday, and give us feedback in the comments!