We're now just two days away from kickoff and excitement is building. This week has gone by terribly slow, but it's now Friday and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Does that light come with a nice shiny "W"? It's anyone's guess.
There are a number of ways the Dolphins can win this game on Sunday. But below I just wanted to talk about my top three keys to victory.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
Despite all of Matt Ryan's success last year, it's important to remember that he is still a very young quarterback. And like any young quarterback, consistent pressure will rattle "Matty Ice." Last season, the Falcons surrendered just 17 sacks all season - the fifth lowest total in the NFL. And when you get that kind of protection, it's easy for any QB to find the open receiver and deliver an accurate pass. Interesting stat to consider: When Matt Ryan was sacked at least twice, the Falcons were 2-3 last year; when he wasn't sacked at all, the Falcons were 5-2.
I believe that the Dolphins can easily have one of the top 5 front seven's in all of the NFL in 2009. I think that they have a number of guys now who can get to the quarterback - highlighted, of course, by Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. But Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson are edge rushers who will likely get some snaps every game. And Channing Crowder was much more active blitzing the QB in the preseason than we've seen in recent years.
I think the Dolphins will unveil some new "exotic bliz packages" against Atlanta - especially directed towards the left side of Atlanta's line. LT Sam Baker is only entering his 2nd season and LG Justin Blalock is only entering his 3rd. These young linemen can get confused if Paul Pasqualoni unleashes some different looks from Miami's front seven.
Get off the field
Tony Sparano has made it clear that one of the things he wants to do every game is run more plays than the opposition. To do that, Miami's defense must get off the field on third down.
Last year, the Dolphins held opponents to a 38% third down conversion rate. But that was against weaker offenses than they face this year. The Falcons, for example, were the 6th best team at converting on 3rd down in 2008 - picking up 43% of their 3rd downs. In the preseason, the Dolphins have gotten off the field 29% of the time on 3rd downs. But there were a number of long 3rd down conversions that the first-team defense surrendered. The game against Tampa Bay comes to mind right away. Those are the mistakes that this defense cannot make in this game.
Attack early and often
While I want the Dolphins to establish the run in every game - especially in games against top offenses - I think this is an ideal game to make a statement early by attacking Atlanta's defense. I know that being more on the conservative side was a major reason the Dolphins had the success they did in 2008. But the Falcons' secondary is very weak and will surrender chunks of yards at a time. So why not go right after them and make them nervous?
You do that early on and it will force the Falcons to respect the pass and limit the number of players they can put in the box to defend the run - at which time you begin pounding them with Ronnie Brown and company. I'm confident that the offensive line will give Chad Pennington enough time to throw - especially if John Abraham can't play or is hindered at all by his injury. To me, this presents the perfect opportunity to make a statement right out of the gate to all of their opponents this season.