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Falcons vs. Dolphins: a Preview

The Falcons are taking their talents to South Beach to play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons will take their talents to South Beach this Sunday to take on the 2-0 Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon. It will be the first time these two teams have met since 2009, when the Dolphins lost to the Falcons 19-7 in the Georgia Dome. That has been the only time these teams have played during the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. The Dolphins have the edge in the series history between these two teams, with seven wins in 11 meetings.

Obviously, one of the key storylines heading into Sunday's game is the fact that the Falcons' roster has been decimated by injuries, and several young players will be expected to step up with significantly more playing time in place of injured starters.

Upon review, there are a few similarities between the Dolphins and the Falcons statistically on offense which are pretty remarkable.

Team Points Per Game Rank

Yards Per Game

Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank
ATL 24 13th 380 11th 318 yards 6th 62 yards 26th
MIA 23.5 14th 336.5 21st 276.0 yards 14th 60.5 yards 28th

As you can see, the similarities lie in the average points per game (one half of one point difference in Atlanta's favor), and the rushing yards per game (one and a half yards in Atlanta's favor.) It's clear, statistically speaking, that Matt Ryan is a superior passing quarterback than Miami's Ryan Tannehill.

The Dolphins are having some of the same issues along the offensive line as the Falcons, as Tannehill has been sacked 10 times so far this season. The offensive line has also allowed four quarterback hits and 18 hurries through two games. That presents an opportunity for Atlanta's pass rush. Former Falcon Tyson Clabo, Miami's starting right tackle, has surrendered three sacks and six hurries on his own so far this season. The line, in general, seems a little susceptible to pressure.

The Falcons' pass rush has not been overwhelming so far this season, and they're down hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Kroy Biermann, who was placed on IR earlier this week, but generating pressure to exploit Miami's challenges in pass blocking will be key.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is pretty underrated--you almost never hear his name mentioned alongside notable second year starters Robert Griffin, III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick. In his rookie season, Tannehill was remarkably cool under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus premium stats, with 72.9% accuracy under pressure. He's showing tendencies, however, of a steep decline under pressure this season. His accuracy was just 33% under pressure week one, and over the first two weeks of the season is just 50% when under pressure.

The Dolphins do not have much of a running game to speak of, and the Falcons have actually been relatively adept at stopping the run this season. Miami is averaging 60.5 rushing yards per game, good for 28th in the league, and the Dolphins' primary running backs, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, have combined for 28 receiving yards on five receptions, so they do not appear to be a big factor in the passing game plan, either. Three of the Dolphins' five touchdowns this season have come on rushing plays, however, so the Falcons will need to be prepared to defend the run in the red zone.

Their receivers, on the other hand, in tandem with their young quarterback, are performing quite well so far this season. Brian Hartline of The Ohio State University is the team's leading receiver, with 182 yards and one touchdown over two games. The Dolphins, of course, made headlines for their acquisition of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Wallace this past offseason, and Charles Clay, a third-year player out of Tulsa, is also performing well, with 163 yards on 10 receptions. Tannehill has performed admirably, especially considering the pressure his offensive line is allowing, completing 47/72 for 591 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

On defense, many Dolphins players will be very familiar with Atlanta's defensive coordinator. Mike Nolan served as the defensive coordinator in Miami in 2010 and 2011 before being hired by Atlanta prior to the 2012 season.

This Dolphins defense has a solid pass rush. So far this season, they have generated 11 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, and 38 hurries. This is not good news for a Falcons offensive line that has been inconsistent in protecting Matt Ryan. Keep an eye on Cameron Wake, who has three sacks so far on the season, but also look out for Jared Odrick. Odrick has a relatively high snap count, but is actually not even listed as a starting defensive tackle on Miami's depth chart, yet has managed five quarterback hits and seven quarterback hurries this season.

Miami's run defense has not been very good, averaging 90 rushing yards per game through the first two games of the season. Miami has 17 missed tackles so far this season. On Sunday, both Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers should try to take advantage of the Dolphins' tendency to miss tackles.

As far as pass defense, Miami has allowed an average of 279.5 passing yards per game, plus two passing touchdowns this season. They're opportunistic, intercepting four passes (one Andrew Luck pass was intercepted by former Falcon Brent Grimes) and forcing two fumbles this season, even though neither fumble was recovered by the Dolphins. However, it's important to note that the Dolphins have, to this point, taken on the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts, so they are not exactly going up against receivers of Atlanta's caliber.

On paper, these two teams are pretty evenly matched. With the struggles exhibited by Atlanta's offensive line, controlling Miami's pass rush should be a big concern for Atlanta's offense heading into Sunday, while exploiting Miami's pass protection should be a focus for the defense. What are you looking for from the Falcons against the Dolphins?