The Miami Dolphins welcome the Atlanta Falcons into South Florida tonight for a Preseason Week 3 contest. During the game, we should see an extended amount of playing time for the starters from both teams, as the franchises use this game as their full preparation for the 2015 regular season. The game kicks off at 7pm ET tonight, but before that, as Dolphins fans we should get a closer look at the Falcons, and The Falcoholic's Dave Choate was kind enough to give us exactly that.
Kevin Nogle, The Phinsider (TP): After seven years with Mike Smith at the helm of the Falcons, the team made a change and brought in Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to the be the new head coach. Quinn has been a hot name in coaching searches the last few years, and should excite the fan base for Atlanta. What have you seen from Quinn thus far? What has Kyle Shanahan, hired as Quinn's offensive coordinator, changed with the offense?
Dave Choate, The Falcoholic (TF): What it comes down to with Quinn is his energy level and his philosophy. Mike Smith was a steady force for the Falcons, but the team went in a drastically different direction with his successor, who emphasizes a "fast and physical" style and simplistic scheme. He's brought an upbeat attitude to the team, and while that only goes so far compared to talent and scheming, it's a very good start for a team that had become moribund.
Kyle Shanahan has installed a new, zone blocking-focused scheme up front that will hopefully help the Falcons gin up a ground game for the first time in years. He's also promising more shots downfield and creativity in using Julio Jones, and if he follows through on all of that, this might be the best edition of the Matt Ryan-led offense we've seen for a while.
TP: The offensive line for Atlanta has been a concern the last few years, primarily due to injuries. Are you concerned about the line heading into this year, or does it seem to be coming back together?
TF: Through two games, the starters have done a fine job up front, so this game figures to be a real test. The short answer is that yes, I am concerned.
Jake Matthews looks healthy and improved, but he and right tackle Ryan Schraeder are about the only two truly stable players on the line. The left guard battle still isn't completely settled, Chris Chester is merely decent at this stage of his career, and Joe Hawley is coming off a major injury at center. There's enough question marks here that I'm not going to feel good about the line until I see health and effective performance through several games this season.
The Falcons will probably need to spend a third straight season trying to gameplan around some weaknesses up front. The encouraging thing is that Shanahan has had more success at that than most.
TP: The running game has not been the strength of the Falcons' offense in recent years, relying more on Matt Ryan's arm. This year, the running back position looks like it will be between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, with Freeman currently listed as the starter on the depth chart. How have they looked this year, and will Coleman eventually supplant him atop the depth chart?
TF: It's impossible to say how they've looked, honestly. Both Coleman and Freeman have been out the last few weeks with hamstring ailments, so they haven't gotten any preseason action. Freeman looked better in training camp, however.
Coleman is, in my humble opinion, the future feature back in this offense. He's got terrific speed, he's an ideal fit in many ways for the one cut system Shanahan is installing, and he's got a surprising ability to bull through contact. Freeman is an ideal complement, as a fine runner, able pass catcher, and quality blocker. For this year, though, Freeman seems to have a slight edge, and if he can get and stay healthy, he may be the lead dog in what looks to be a committee approach to the backfield.
TP: Which lesser known Falcons players should Dolphins fans be watching on Saturday? How have your rookies looked so far?
TF: The rookie class has been a mixed bag so far. Coleman has been hurt, second round pick Jalen Collins has struggled at cornerback, and Justin Hardy has had an up-and-down preseason at wide receiver. Vic Beasley has been everything he was advertised to be, though, and seventh round pick Jake Rodgers has been surprisingly decent at tackle, to the point where he may make the team outright.
For relative unknowns, look for Ricardo Allen, the team's presumptive free safety, and receiver Leonard Hankerson, who had a quiet few years in Washington but looks revitalized in this offense. Both should play major roles this year, and Allen is particularly intriguing as a physical, aggressive former cornerback turned safety.
TP: What are realistic expectations for the Falcons this year?
TF: I think a winning record is within the team's grasp, and the playoffs will depend on how the rest of the NFC and NFC South fare. This is a team with more talent, a coaching staff that appears to get it, and some of the same reliable big names (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant) that shone a year ago. Expecting anywhere from 8-8 to 10-6, hoping for the latter.