Sunday’s matchup against last year’s Super Bowl runner up is likely to be the toughest test the Miami Dolphins have faced so far this season.
As if the Falcons needed home field and an extra week to prepare after yet another – let’s say, interesting – week for the 2017 Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins are going to need to continue the impressive performance the defense has displayed so far this season, and they’ll have to turn the corner on offense if they have any plans on earning their third win of the season as the Falcons are eighth in the NFL averaging 26 points per game.
Disclaimer: The performance of the offensive line is going to be crucial to every game for the remainder of the history of the Miami Dolphins. This weekly article is meant to single out specific matchups and players to keep an eye on for the particular week. So yes, certain lineman will make appearances in this article throughout the remainder of the season, but everyone knows it’s the five guys in front of the quarterback that will play a large role in determining the outcome of each game.
With that being said, here are five players to watch in Sunday’s matchup against Atlanta.
Despite being thrust into a starting role against the New Orleans Saints after being a healthy scratch the first two weeks of the season, Tankersley has filled in very well for Byron Maxwell who is experiencing both injury and performance issues.
The Falcons not only feature one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones, but they have a veteran quarterback who has the wherewithal to take advantage of Tankersley and his inexperience.
Tankersley and the Dolphins’ secondary need to continue limiting big plays while not allowing Jones to create after the catch, which he excels at; and the defense may need to also create a turnover to steal a possession away from the Falcons and their high-powered offense if Miami has any chance of winning this Sunday.
With DeVante Parker not practicing on Thursday it seems very unlikely that he’ll play a significant role in the offense this week if he is able to find his way onto the active roster. If Parker is unable to go Sunday, even more pressure will be on Landry and the rest of the receiver core to perform at a high level against Atlanta.
The entire unit had an issue with drops last week so they’ll need to find a resolution to this issue very soon in order to make the most out of the limited opportunities Jay Cutler is allowed to throw the ball downfield.
It’ll be on Landry, as one of the team’s vocal leaders, to also have his play do some of the talking as he may need to make it two weeks in a row with a touchdown if Miami is to keep pace with Atlanta.
In yet another chaos week in the fiasco that is known as the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line, Pouncey needs to emerge as a leader and get this unit back to playing at least average football.
Pouncey and the entire offensive line’s performance will not only be key in protecting Cutler, but also as a sign that the team isn’t phased by the questionable decision making of former offensive line coach, Chris Foerster.
This group has been one of the most underwhelming units of the 2017 season, and like Landry, the Dolphins’ most tenured offensive lineman needs his play to speak volumes and lead by example in turning the season around.
Scoring at least a touchdown in every game so far this season, Freeman will look to be the first running back to find true success against the impressive Dolphins’ run defense.
In the lone Falcons’ loss so far in 2017, the Buffalo Bills were able to hold Freeman to just 58 yards on 18 carries – so it seems likely that Miami will implement a similar strategy to limit the impact of Atlanta’s lead running back.
If Freeman is able to be effective on the ground it could turn into a long day for the Dolphins’ defense as his success will only assist in what is already a potent passing offense.
This may seem like a fairly obvious selection, but last season’s MVP hasn’t been nearly as impactful so far this year throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns (5).
With how well Miami has played the run through four games this season, Ryan may be asked to shoulder more of the load and make a few more plays through the air. While the Dolphins’ secondary has performed pretty well recently, the combination of Ryan and Jones has the unique ability to take over a game and prove why they were the league’s highest scoring offense last season.
When the clock shows 00:00 this Sunday, it’s a safe bet that Ryan has played an extensive role in determining the outcome.