Falcons fans should know by now that games are often won in the trenches. The teams that have beat us over the past couple of years have generally won the battle up-front. That’s why this Dolphins match-up could be more difficult than you’d expect. Here’s what to look for in the upcoming game.
Note: Analysis based on PFF Edge scoring
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line is ranked highly and for good reason. Center Alex Mack is one of the best in the league. To his left, Jake Matthews is generally good, though he’s struggled at times this year. Andy Levitre is a solid veteran who is dependable in the run game and in pass protection. On the right side of the line, the Falcons hope to have back Ryan Schraeder, who is easily one of the best right tackles in the NFL. He’ll be next to 2nd year player Wes Schweitzer who has slowly improved with each game. The Falcons will get an instant boost in their pass protection if they don’t have to play Ty Sambrailo, so let’s hope Schraeder is good to go.
Opposite of them is a very formidable defensive unit. In the middle, Jordan Phillips is currently playing below par. However, the guy next to him - Ndamukong Suh - is having another great year and is a wrecking ball to keep an eye on. On the edges, Andre Branch is having an average year so far, while William Hayes looks to be having yet another good season. In nickel sets, Cameron Wake comes in to rush the QB and he can still be very disruptive. Rookie Charles Harris has also shown flashes of being able to get to the QB quickly.
I’ll be honest - this Dolphins defensive line could be a problem on Sunday. If the Falcons offense is going to bounce back, it’s going to have to find a way to contain the talent on this DL. If they don’t, fans could be in for a rude awakening.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan isn’t having an MVP start to his season so far. While he’s been good at times, his accuracy on the deep ball just hasn’t been on the mark this year. His receiving options, though, are still pretty strong. Julio Jones continues to be a dominant force. Mohamed Sanu has had a good season so far, but may not be playing on Sunday. Taylor Gabriel still has the speed to turn any touch into a touchdown, but Ryan and him have not quite connected like they did in 2016 - to this point. It may be up to guys like Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts and Nick Williams to step up. Austin Hooper has been decent, but has disappeared for long stretches. The true strength of this unit is in the running backs. Both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are off to a great start, and if the team can get both of them going, there’s no reason to think this offense can’t start scoring points in large chunks again.
The Dolphins have some good linebackers in Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Both are playing well so far this year. Rey Maualuga is a bit underwhelming at MLB, however. The Dolphins secondary, though, is another matter. Free safety Nate Allen is off to a very poor start, though his partner Reshad Jones is playing well at strong safety. Rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley has been inconsistent, but shown flashes of competence while Xavien Howard is a weakness the Falcons should look to take advantage of. In nickel sets, Bobby McCain is ok, but doesn’t necessarily instill confidence in this D.
The Falcons have a ton of talent on offense, but they just haven’t put it all together consistently. This is a great game for them to do it in. They have several favorable match-ups that they should take advantage of. If they can execute, there are definite holes in this Dolphins defense to be exploited.
Honestly, this game is going to boil down to one name: Ryan Schraeder. If he plays, the Falcons stand a much better chance of slowing down this Dolphins defensive front. From the sounds of it, he will be out there on Sunday. Given the other match-ups, the Falcons should be able to bounce back from their week 4 loss and put some points on the board.