For the first time in the 2013 regular season, the Miami Dolphins will play in Sun Life Stadium when the team hosts the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. What can we expect to see from the Falcons? I turned to SB Nation's Falcons blog, The Falcoholic, to get a better idea. Dave Choate was more than happy to give us an inside look.
Kevin Nogle (KN): Obviously, the top question surrounding the Falcons this week is the long list of injuries hitting the team. From Steven Jackson being listed as out, to Roddy White, Asante Samuel, and Sam Baker not participating in practice, to Akeem Dent, Julio Jones, Peter Konz, and Cliff Matthews all being limited, this has been a rough week for Falcons players. Of the group, do you expect any of them to be able to play, and what adjustments should we expect from the Falcons to cover up some of the missing players?
Dave Choate (DC): I think most everyone will play aside from Steven Jackson, though Roddy White and Sam Baker are likely to be somewhat limited. That's a major concern given how banged up this team is, with Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann and Bradie Ewing landing on the IR.
The Falcons will compensate by being as aggressive as possible. Expect tons of passes to the flats and screens, White running out wide as a decoy and the Falcons giving new starting fullback Patrick DiMarco chances to chip if Baker's really struggling at left tackle. The Falcons are also likely to try to get after Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Massaquoi taking over for Biermann, because his upside as a pass rusher could be a huge asset. I won't lie to you, the going's getting tough with this many injuries, but they have some young athletes who should be able to help out.
If Baker is out, by the way, look for second-year right tackle Lamar Holmes to switch to the left side. He's susceptible to speed off the edge, but may actually be an upgrade over a clearly gimpy Baker. Stay tuned.
If you're looking for a few more thoughts on how the Falcons might adjust, I pulled something together here.
KN: Dolphins fans are really worried this week about Tony Gonzalez, as the team seems to struggle against covering tight ends. Gonzalez has the second most targets this year for Atlanta, with 13, two ahead of third place Harry Douglas, but training Julio Jones by 11. What should we expect to see from the future Hall of Famer?
I think Gonzalez is finally slowing down, albeit just a bit. That said, he is still capable of wreaking havoc on teams that can't cover him, and I think this is the game where he finally takes off a bit. I'm predicting something like 7-8 catches, 60-70 yards and a touchdown, which should be enough to help keep the chains moving and keep the Falcons in the game. They're going to need him to step up.
Your linebackers need to have excellent coverage instincts to keep up with him, I'll tell you that.
KN: The strength of the Miami offense this year seems to be the passing game, which is a really strange to say after all the years of being a run first team. However, they are trying to establish Lamar Miller as an effective runner, opening up the play action pass and more options for the offense. Meanwhile, the Falcons are 9th in the league against the run, giving up just 73.5 yards per game. Will the Dolphins be able to find space to run the ball this week, or should we expect to see Tannehill throwing the ball all day?
DC: I think the Falcons are going to try to clamp down hard on Miller. They trust that young secondary to get things done, so making the Dolphins one-dimensional would be quite helpful.
One issue: Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann are out, as I mentioned, and both could make things happen against the run. The Falcons will be leaning heavily on a rookie linebacker (Joplo Bartu) and Massaquoi, who doesn't profile as an excellent run stopper just yet. They do have an athletic front with some very talented defensive tackles, so I'd expect them to be able to hold Miller well under 100 yards. I worry about what he can do if he gets into space, however.
If you want to attack the Falcons with Miller, I'd suggest throwing the ball to him. The Rams and Saints had some success finding their running backs in the flats.
KN: The common prediction is that the Falcons are a contender in a stacked NFC to make the Super Bowl this year. As their fan, how do you handle those expectations, and are your expectations changing with the 1-1 start and all the injuries mounting?
DC: My expectations haven't wavered. It helps that I was predicting a 10-6 season to begin with, so it's not hard to envision a banged-up Falcons team getting some help from young players and riding Matt Ryan's arm into the playoffs. Once they're there, as a team with a dynamic offense and a growing defense, they certainly will be in position to make noise.
Still, the injuries are mounting and I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me nervous. When you add the injuries to the very real struggles the Falcons have been experiencing along the offensive line, you have to challenge your assumptions a little bit. This week will be a nice test against a young, capable team with a tough defense.
KN: If you are game planning to beat the Falcons, what are you doing on offense? Defense?
DC: On offense, you're relentless with short passes. The secondary's very good, so you challenge the front seven and try to get your most athletic players in space where they can make plays. You then take the occasional shot downfield with Mike Wallace, because he's got wheels. Try to stay balanced, because teams that become one dimensional fall into Mike Nolan's hands.
On the defensive side of the ball, you sell out to stop the pass. Play an aggressive zone near the line of scrimmage and give safety help on Julio Jones, as he's the primary threat. If you can't contain Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, you'll have a very long day.
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