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Dolphins vs Falcons: Three Key Matchups

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I don't think I've ever been so pumped to write a post than I am now.  At long last, after focusing on who is running with what team in practice and debating such hot topics as the Dolphins 53rd man on the roster, we get to turn our attention to an actual game - and meaningful game.  Finally!

Kicking off the festivities this week will be a look at my three key matchups for Sunday's battle between between the Dolphins and Falcons.  And that's not all for this week.  We still have our yearly season predictions post - which is always fun because of the debate it sparks - and an interview with the person who wrote Sports Illustrated's Dolphins preview.  So be sure to check back all week long.

Onto the matchups:

Dolphins' Offensive Line vs Falcons' Defense Line
One of Atlanta's glaring weaknesses is their ability to stop the run.  Last year the Falcons ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed per game and their 4.9 yards allowed per carry was the 4th most in the NFL.  Yes, the Falcons addressed this by drafting DT Peria Jerry and signing OLB Mike Peterson.  But they are far from sure things to improve Atlanta's front seven.

But what I wanted to bring up in particular was the sheer size advantage Miami's offensive line has over Atlanta's defensive line.  The average weight of Miami's starting line is 315 pounds while Atlanta's defensive line averages just over 280 pounds.  If you take it a step further, the Falcons three starting linebackers are all under 250 pounds, with strong side linebacker Stephen Nicholas tipping the scales at a paltry 232 pounds.

Bill Parcells and company are big believers in being big.  Many claim they actually have size limits and will remove players off of their draft board if they don't meet their requirements.  On Sunday, the Dolphins and their high-priced offensive line must flex their muscle and take advantage of their size and supposed strength (Jake Grove, Justin Smiley, Donald Thomas - I'm looking at you) and knock Atlanta's front line off the ball at the line of scrimmage.  Ball control is a must in this game with Atlanta's talented offense.  And running the football effectively is critical.  But it won't matter how good our backs are if this line can't knock some defenders on their butts.

Roddy White vs Will Allen/Sean Smith

Very quietly last year, Roddy White quickly pushed himself into the elite category of wide receivers, catching 88 balls for 1,382 yards (4th in NFL).  It was his second consecutive 80+ reception and 1,200+ yard season.  But people tend to forget his name when discussing who the game's top receivers are.  But they shouldn't.  White was a guy who had immense talent coming out of UAB but was very raw.  Now, though, he has polished his skills and uses his great physical gifts to dominate opposing defenses.

White's also Matt Ryan's go-to receiver.  He was targeted 148 times last year - 67 more targets than any other player on the Falcons.  In fact, only seven players in the entire league were thrown more balls than White.  Roddy also ranked 7th in the league in yards per reception among receivers with at least 50 catches - averaging 15.7 yards per catch.  And his 61 first downs ranked him 6th in the league.  He's a guy who makes big plays at big moments.

How will the Dolphins defend him?  That's a good question.  From what we saw in the preseason, the Dolphins will probably stick to keeping Will Allen on the left side (from the defense's perspective) of the defense and Sean Smith on the right side.  If that's the case, then the Falcons will be able to dictate who defends the play-making receiver.  Regardless of what side he's on and who is covering him, though, I'd expect safety help will be there for most of the game over the top.  Most teams roll coverages towards the offense's top receiver - and White is certainly deserving of it.

Dolphins' Receivers vs Falcons' Secondary
Did anyone happen to catch the preseason game last week between the Ravens and Falcons?  I only ask because if you did, you got to see the Ravens offense march right down the field for a touchdown on their first possession against Atlanta's starting defense.  What's so remarkable about this?  It was John Beck leading Baltimore's 2nd and 3rd string offense.  He was throwing to Demetrius Williams and Jayson Foster (yes - that Jayson Foster).  Jalen Parmele (yes - that Jalen Parmele) was the featured running back for the drive.  And the drive began at Baltimore's own 9 yard line.

John Beck led this group of backups and camp fodder on a 14 play, 91 yard touchdown drive against the starting Falcon defense - throwing for 50 yards and a touchdown on 5/5 passing.  If that group of guys can do it, then why can't Chad Pennington and his group of receivers?

The fact of the matter is Atlanta's secondary isn't very good.  Chris Houston isn't a bad starting corner.  But Brent Grimes stinks.  And their backups now are Brian Williams (signed last week) and Tye Hill (signed two weeks ago).  While Hill is just another first-round bust they acquired from St. Louis, Williams is still a solid corner.  But there's a reason he was cut.  After all, Jack Del Rio and the Jaguars just don't release talented defensive players.  He's not the corner he used to be.  He spent much of last season at safety because, at 30 yars old, he isn't the athlete he once was.  So to think he's Atlanta's answer to their secondary problems is a reach.

The bottom line here is that there is no reason for Ted Ginn, Davone Bess, and Greg Camarillo to struggle getting open and making plays.  From an offensive standpoint, this is actually a good opening game because it should be a confidence booster - with "should" being the key word.  And if the Dolphins do lose this game, it should definitely not be because of the offense.  That would be unacceptable to me.