The Dolphins were looking to be pretty difficult even when the Falcons were full strength, what with their fancy pass rush, quality secondary and growing offense. Down four starters for this game and with Roddy White still likely limited, it's looking dicier by the day.
That's what I'd say if I were pessimistic, but I'm actually not. There's no doubt the Dolphins are going to give the Falcons hell, but this is a game I still have the Falcons winning. To do so, they're going to need to attack the Dolphins in a different way than they might have with a healthy Steven Jackson and Sean Weatherspoon. It's inevitable, but it doesn't have to be a killer.
Here's how I see the Falcons compensating for injuries against Miami.
Less Running, More Short Passes
Yes, they can actually run less than they already have.
Against the Rams, 10 of Ryan's 33 completions were to running backs. The bulk of those (8) went to Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, and the Falcons got 69 of Ryan's 374 yards that way. I think you see where I'm going with this.
These aren't necessarily the big gainers, but with the Falcons unlikely to have an incredibly effective ground game, they'll need to keep a good pass rush away from Ryan. The best way to do that is by emulating your incredibly annoying friend who just throws passes to the flats in Madden all day and...throw passes to the flats all day. Snelling has power and Rodgers is shifty, so you give them the chance to break a big play, keep the chains moving and compensate for the likely weakness in the ground game.
This is going to be especially effective if the Dolphins send the house, which they're likely to do to try to disrupt the offense and not give Ryan time to find Julio Jones.
Akeem Dent And Stephen Nicholas Get Snaps
There's a popular theory that the Falcons are now going to start Paul Worrilow outside opposite Joplo Bartu. I would pump the brakes on that, just a little.
I'm not saying Worrilow can't force his way into a starting job eventually, but getting two UDFAs going outside is something the Falcons may want to avoid unless they're confident he's just as ready as Bartu. Miami also brings an interesting look that may keep Nicholas and Dent on the field.
Let's be clear: The Dolphins like to throw to guys like tight end Charles Clay, which means Bartu will be needed for coverage. Outside of that, though, Miami simply doesn't get the ball to its running backs that much. Over two games, Lamar Miller has six catches for 45 yards and the plodding Daniel Thomas has 12 for 72 yards. The Falcons don't have to respect the screen pass to an RB the same way they did against the Saints and Rams, which means run-stopping is the more important factor. Whatever his faults, Nicholas can still do that, and we know Dent can do it.
Look for The Falcons to key on the run at linebacker outside of Bartu. I won't rule out plenty of snaps for Worrilow, but this is the game they may want to focus on the ground game.
Rush The Passer
There's no way around it: Jonathan Massaquoi can't do everything Kroy Biermann could do. What the growing evidence suggests he can do is get after a quarterback, and he's got a prime matchup in a declining Tyson Clabo.
While Biermann could be counted on to do a half-dozen things throughout the course of the game, Mike Nolan is going to have to go simple and just set Mass loose. This is a great opportunity for him, but Tannehill is solid under pressure (thank you for the correction, Dolphins fans!) and he'll need to come up with some sacks to make a difference.
So the Falcons will rush. They're missing two defensive starters and the Dolphins have enough talent on offense to at least test the secondary. Now's the perfect time to mask that by getting the pass rush going.
Attack Whoever's Covering Julio Jones
This Dolphins team has some very good corners. Julio Jones is amazing. Utilize him regardless.
How do you think the Falcons will play the Dolphins to mask injuries?
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- Sam Baker Regresses Like Whoa, and the Falcoholic-Chugging Masses Don't Rejoice
- Falcons Promote Patrick DiMarco, Sign Two Linebackers To Active Roster
- According To Linebacker Chase Thomas, Falcons Sign Linebacker Chase Thomas To Practice Squad