Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ Miami Dolphins (1-1)
Thursday August 25 8:00 EST – Hard Rock Stadium – NBC National Broadcast
The third pre-season game is always the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Just as the Dolphins are preparing for their contest possible adding some minimal scheming, I’m going to transition more into a regular season format for this piece. I watched both Falcons pre-season games to get an idea of what they’ve been doing and how Miami can attack and beat Atlanta.
I won’t be doing preview and review pieces for the fourth pre-season game against Tennessee because I find that game mostly irrelevant. Rather, I’ll replace those posts with a final roster prediction piece, and a full blow season preview with statistic projections, schedule breakdown and much more. You can catch those on September 1 (roster prediction) and September 5 (season preview.)
This game is going to test the Dolphins biggest weakness. The Dallas game provided a challenge for the front line getting off blocks and they failed quite miserably. Atlanta offers up one of the game’s elite tailbacks in Devonta Freeman. The poor linebacker play and general missed tackle issue will be magnified in this game as Freeman’s shifty quick twitch, downhill style can make even the best defenses forget its fundamentals. He had a top five elusive rating from a year ago and looks even better this pre-season.
Off those running plays, the Falcons passing game is predicated on short passes from the play action game. I counted four play action crossing routes where they ran either Julio Jones or Mohammed Sanu across the formation, getting them the ball early and letting them make a play. The Atlanta offense also stacked its formations and would throw out quick screens on passing downs so the corners have to tackle too.
This is one of the few teams left in the league that lines up with a true full-back so our linebackers will have to be even better at stacking and shedding in this game.
I’m not entirely sure what happened to Matt Ryan, but coming off a down year in 2015, Kyle Shannahan sure is building in safe throws to this offense early in the pre-season and relying on the skill players to make tacklers miss.
If those things don’t challenge a team’s tackling ability, nothing will. This is a terrific measuring stick for the Dolphins defense and, after two bad performances, another one in a full on tune-up game would be cause for concern (although I’m sure a lot of you have already broken the ‘in case of emergency’ glass.)
For the Dolphins offense, the Falcons like to attack the line of scrimmage. Ricardo Allen is a smallish safety that plays down in the box. They align mostly in a 5-2 scheme with the safety playing down and the corners in press-man on the outside. There is room to attack this defense down the field so I look for Kenny Stills to have another strong showing.
The linebackers of the Falcons have some room to grow and the Dolphins should have some openings over the intermediate middle part of the field. Jordan Cameron needs a coming to Jesus moment and has to get things going tonight. The opportunity is there for him although I’m fully expecting Dominique Jones to outperform Cameron for the third consecutive game.
The Atlanta defense is undisciplined and can be had with misdirection and play action. I’m curious to see how much Adam Gase does in terms of showing his real hand or whether he keeps it vanilla.
The ground game must get going in this game as the interior of that Falcons defense gives a lot of ground. Grady Jarret borrowed Andre Branch’s ice skates in the game vs. Cleveland – he’s always blown off the ball.
Things to watch for tonight in primetime:
1.) Can the linebackers finally make some plays? –
Kiko Alonso needs to turn it around in a hurry, Koa Misi has hardly had a mention and Jelani Jenkins needs to find that early 2014 form again. The three have been dreadful and are dealing with some good interior line play (newly acquired Alex Mack) as well as a bruising full back. They will get tested in coverage as well with the Falcons quick passing attack. I want to see a good rotation of all our guys against the Falcons first team so we can find two or three guys worthy of playing 70% of the defense’s snaps come the regular season.
2.) Get the damn running game going –
I’m all aboard the Isaiah Pead starting tailback express. It’s only been two carries, but I’m already over the Arian Foster experiment, I like Jay Ajayi coming off the bench to split carries and I think there’s something to be said about rewarding the guy that has been head and shoulders above everyone. Pead passed his test with the first team last week, give him a bigger workload and see if he can earn the starting gig for the Seattle game.
3.) Who is the right guard going to be? –
More than just the backs, this line has an opportunity to win some one-on-one match-ups inside with a questionable Falcons front. Anthony Steen gets the call at center, but it sounds like Mike Pouncey will return from the hip injury for the regular season. I like Billy Turner the most at right guard, but he needs to be better in pass pro to hold off Jermon Bushrod. Coach Gase says Dallas Thomas is still in the mix, but he’ll have plenty of time to dip into all the trail mix and Chex Mix he desires when he’s unemployed in two weeks.
4.) Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker and Jordan Cameron need bounce back games –
Landry had too many drops, Parker had one and was kind of an afterthought and Cameron was, well, bad. Cameron has a big opportunity going up against some not so great competition. The Falcons will challenge the short routes of the Dolphins so it would be nice to see Parker get behind the defense and Juice needs to get back to catching short passes and moving the chains.
5.) Show us it really was the scheme, Mr. Maxwell –
I didn’t think Byron Maxwell was as bad as most did in the Dallas game, but he has a huge test with Julio Jones this week. I want to see him play physical with the best receiver in the NFC and challenge him at the line of scrimmage. Jones is going to get his catches, but Maxwell needs to win a couple of these battles.
6.) Who will earn snaps on Sunday? –
There are a lot of regular season snaps still to be won. Passing down interior rusher, nickel linebacker, dime back, second corner job, the tight end job might be open now, running back carries are there for the taking and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them flirt with the idea of a sixth lineman coming on to the field. Chris McCain, Neville Hewitt, Jelani Jenkins, Tony Lippett, Billy Turner, show us you want to not just make this team, but contribute to it.
Frankly, I’m getting sick of these pre-season pieces. I’ve usually hit my patience peak with these fake football games by now and the only thing getting me through is knowing that the starters and main role players will see the bulk of the reps. I will watch the fourth game, but I’m kind of just there so I don’t get fined.
It’s silly to over-react to pre-season football but if the same issues that we’ve seen two weeks in a row persist here, I can understand some cause for concern at that point.
Enjoy the fact that NBC is doing our game because it’s the best broadcast in football and they have ignored the Dolphins like the plague for a half decade now.
Enjoy the fact that we’re only two weeks again from the Carolina @ Denver regular season opener.
Enjoy the fact that your favorite hobby is back no matter how disappointing the Dolphins might be.
I’ll be live tweeting the game with the handle @travis_writes.
You can contact me via email at email@example.com
William Merring is on fire with his Phinjury Report pieces. He most recently wrote a great piece about Mike Pouncey’s hip – and it is very unlike Shakira, it does lie.
If you want to hear better jokes than my attempts, listen to the Perfectville Podcast.
Have a great week and Phins Up!