One of the weekly features you're going to see here at The Phinsider is an interview with SB Nation's blogger for the opposing team. With the Dolphins visiting Atlanta on Sunday to kick off the 2009 season against the Falcons, I'd like to welcome in Dave the Falconer from The Falcoholic, SBN's Falcons blog. Below are his responses to my questions about the Falcons. You can head over to his blog to see my responses to his Dolphins questions.
Matt Ryan obviously had a fantastic rookie season. It also helped that he had such a great running game to lean on. But now he gets a new shiny toy to play with named Tony Gonzalez. So is there any chance we see a sophomore slump out of Ryan? And what would you say his biggest weakness is that you hope he improves upon in 2009?
There's always a chance you'll see the sophomore slump, whether or not any Falcon fan is willing to admit that possibility. Like any young quarterback, there are times where his decision making last season was less than stellar, and I'll look for him to take a big step forward there with another year off-season of coaching under his belt. Given that he's got a good arm and stays cool under pressure, I actually think we'll actually be looking for Ryan to improve on his numbers from last season.
While Atlanta's offense seems to be very strong, you can't say the same thing for the defense. The secondary, in particular, looks especially suspect. How worried are you about Atlanta's ability to defend the pass?
It's easily the biggest concern I have with this team, honestly. The secondary is very young--with the exception of freshly picked corner Brian Williams--and our cornerbacks have looked lost and confused throughout the pre-season. The team has grabbed Williams and Tye Hill in an attempt to shore up the breach, but neither is going to be ready to play in Week 1. With a rotation of solid wide receivers, you guys should be a good first test for us.
The Falcons weren't very good stopping the run last year, either. Their 127 yards allowed per game ranked 25th in the league while their 4.9 yards allowed per carry ranked 28th. Are new Falcons Peria Jerry and Mike Peterson going to be enough to really improve upon their front seven enough to at least slow down their opponents running game?
We'll be much improved this season. Peria Jerry and Mike Peterson are solid against the run, but the bigger part of the picture is other players who will perhaps be less unsung. Curtis Lofton will be playing every down this year, as compared to one or two at a time last year, and he's an absolute beast against the rush. Add in a pair of lane-clogging defensive tackles who can rotate in (Trey Lewis and Thomas Johnson), a solid outside presence from Stephen Nicholas at linebacker, and the fact that both Chauncey Davis and Jamaal Anderson are primarily proficient against the run and you should see an improvement that at least brings us to the middle of the pack. The only player who isn't going to help much with the run is John Abraham, and we forgive him because he's likely to rack up double digit sacks this year.
Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez - those are just some of Atlanta's offensive weapons. If you were drawing up a defensive gameplan against the Falcons, what would it look like? Blitzing Matt Ryan? Focusing on containing Turner? Doubling White? Help us out a little.
Blitzing Matt Ryan was advice I gave throughout the season last year, but a funny thing happened: It didn't really effect him to the extent it would most young quarterbacks. It's still a solid strategy, but we've got a tough offensive line and he's very collected. Your best bet is to try to take Michael Turner out of the equation and force Ryan to pass all day long. While he can and has gotten the job done, the Falcons really thrive when all cylinders are firing, and Turner is still the centerpiece of this offense. I'd focus on stacking up against him.
Put your stamp on it - who wins Sunday's game and why? And while you're at it, give us a name of a player - offensive or defensive - that most Dolphin fans might not know right now, but will hear a lot about on Sunday.
I'll go back to Curtis Lofton. There are very, very few young linebackers in this league with Lofton's enormous potential, and he racked up a huge number of tackles last year in limited playing time. He's an aggressive defender, a punishing hitter and a guy who has great instincts against both the pass and run. You'll likely see him in on every play this Sunday. I'm predicting 31-28 Falcons.