Falcons vs. Dolphins: 4 Critical Matchups In Week 3

Marc Serota

The Falcons and Dolphins will square off in an important Week 3 game.

The Falcons are limping and crawling into Miami with a 1-1 record and the need to start stringing some wins together. Can they best the 2-0 Dolphins?

Of course they can. The Falcons still have plenty of talent and some intriguing young options to fill in for their injured players, and they have the vaunted Matt Ryan to Julio Jones connection. I'm not going to pencil any game in as easy the rest of the way—aside from perhaps the Jets—but they're winnable. It will just require some great games from our favorite team.

If they're going to win, though, they're going to have to win a number of individual battles. Let's take a look at four of them.

Jonathan Massaquoi vs. Tyson Clabo

I touched on this one the other day, but it should be mentioned again.

Clabo has struggled thus far against speed rushers off the edge. The Falcons released him to save some money, but they also let him go because they saw that this was going to be the new reality with Clabo going forward. We either couldn't or didn't want to see that, naturally, and neither did the Dolphins.

Massaquoi can't do everything Kroy Biermann can do, but he's shown natural ability as a pass rusher thus far in 2013. Ryan Tannehill is nails under pressure unless you can actually get to him and bring him down, and while Osi Umenyiora is perfectly capable of doing so, Massaquoi has the better matchup.

If Clabo can show his old form and the rest of the Dolphins' line holds up well, the Falcons will need to lean heavily on their secondary to stop Tannehill. Mass getting into the backfield and wreaking some havoc certainly changes the equation.

Joplo Bartu vs. Charles Clay

Bartu acquitted himself well in coverage when matched up against Jared Cook last weekend, taking the productive tight end out of the game for long stretches. Compared to that, Charles Clay ought to be a piece of cake.

Maybe not, though. Clay has been borderline lethal over two games, reeling in 10 catches for 163 yards. Tannehill trusts the 24-year-old with his life (I assume), and so this cake perhaps is holding a knife and warily circling Bartu, if I'm going to stretch this analogy further. Taking Clay out of the game leaves the secondary to deal with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, which I believe they're very capable of doing.

So Bartu will need to have another nice game in coverage, with Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas and the rest of the D stepping in when necessary.

Tony Gonzalez vs. Dolphins D

Let's flip the script! I've been assured by Dolphins fans that their otherwise excellent defense couldn't stop a tight end with the aid of a concrete barrier, so this is a nice matchup for Gonzo.

Gonzalez has started off his year fairly quietly, but you can't expect that to last forever. With the Falcons likely bringing a weak ground game and a still-gimpy Roddy White to Miami, it's going to be important for guys like Gonzalez and Harry Douglas to step up and take some pressure off of Julio Jones. Not that pressure fazes Julio Jones, of course.

So look for the Dolphins to try to take Gonzo out of the game. Look for Gonzo to respond by hopefully having his best game to date. This is one of Atlanta's clear cut advantages, and they'd be foolish not to look Tony's way tomorrow.

Lamar Holmes/Jeremy Trueblood vs. Cameron Wake

The Dolphins are going to bring heat off the edges. The Falcons are going to want to keep Matt Ryan alive. You know, important stuff.

Perhaps the biggest question will be whether the Falcons can hold back Cameron Wake. The former CFL star has become one of the league's more dangerous pass rushers, and he'll be coming at whoever is playing right tackle. Lamar Holmes has struggled to handle speed and Jeremy Trueblood is not known for his pass blocking acumen, so this is a bad mismatch on paper.

Patrick DiMarco, Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizon Snelldgers are going to get chipping opportunities, but largely the responsibility for stopping Wake will fall on one of the two guys mentioned above. Let's hope they're up to the task.

Your critical matchups?

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