We’re finally back to Falcons football. That bye week felt like an eternity, especially after the way that Week 4 game ended. I’m ready to wash that bad taste out of my mouth, and the Falcons certainly are, too. Luckily, they should have an excellent opportunity to do so against the 2-2 Dolphins on Sunday.
The Dolphins might be .500, but don’t let that fool you. They’re by far the worst offense in the league, and have been dealing with their fair share of drama after a coach was filmed snorting a “powdery white substance”. It may or may not have been “nose clams”—my sources cannot confirm. Either way, the Falcons should be able to take care of business at home, particularly with the team getting healthier coming off their bye.
Here are some of my players to watch on Sunday.
RT Ryan Schraeder and RG Wes Schweitzer
With Schraeder returning from his concussion this week, this will be the first time since the first series of Week 2 that we’ll be able to see the “starting” right side of the Falcons’ offensive line. Since that time, Schweitzer has had to make due with back-up Ty Sambrailo next to him, who has been serviceable as a run blocker but a clear liability in pass protection. Despite that difficult situation, Schweitzer appears to have found his footing in the NFL after a rocky start.
Schweitzer has been an impressive run blocker and an improved pass protector over the past two weeks, despite facing some tough competition. Now, with the returning presence of Ryan Schraeder beside him, will we see a borderline-elite offensive line emerge? It’s a possibility, though it’s reasonable to expect Schraeder to take some time to re-acclimate himself after missing several weeks with a concussion. I’m excited to see what this tandem can accomplish on the right side during the remainder of the 2017 season. They’ll have another stiff test against the Dolphins’ formidable defensive line.
LB Duke Riley
It’s hard to understate how poorly Riley has played early in the season. That’s not entirely unexpected—he’s a rookie with only a year of starting experience under his belt in college. But the Falcons need more out of Riley going forward if they expect this defense to take the next step into becoming a dependable top-15 unit. The good news is that Riley’s issues appear to be correctable. After all, he seems to have plenty of athletic ability and always seems to be in position to make a play. He just...doesn’t seem to ever make a play.
With four NFL starts and a bye week under his belt, the hope is that Riley can finally start to finish some of those plays. Quinn has shown time and time again that he is unafraid to throw rookies into the fire if he thinks they have potential down the road, and it’s pretty clear that Riley has the talent to be a good NFL LB. Sunday’s match-up against a struggling Dolphins’ offense should give him an opportunity to make some plays. Hopefully, it can help build his confidence heading into a difficult match-up in Week 7 against the Patriots.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
It once again seems that Vic Beasley is unlikely to play as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury. That means that the rookie McKinley will get another opportunity to start in the nickel package. The Dolphins’ offensive line, despite the presence of several talented players, has struggled mightily in 2017. It might have something to do with a certain offensive line coach, or they may just not be very good after all. Either way, it should give Takk a chance to make an impact on Sunday.
The talented rookie has made his presence known in the games he’s started for Beasley, and should have a much easier time finishing sacks against the statuesque Jay Cutler. Here’s to hoping that McKinley adds a few plays to his highlight reel on Sunday. Regardless, these early starting reps should pay dividends for McKinley and the Falcons later in the season.
WR Taylor Gabriel
It’s pretty clear that Sark loves Taylor Gabriel and wants to feature him in this offense. What isn’t clear is how they’re going to accomplish that, because outside of one impressive game against the Lions, Gabriel has been a relative non-factor in 2017. With Mohamed Sanu likely out for Sunday’s game, Gabriel should once again have an opportunity to be the de-facto #2 WR in the passing game.
Hopefully, with a bye week to continue honing their timing, Matt and Gabriel can finally connect on some deep shots against a pretty poor Dolphins’ secondary. The extra attention demanded by Julio should help him get some one-on-one opportunities, and the Falcons’ must be able to take advantage of those if they have any aspirations of returning to their 2016 form on offense.
Falcons DT depth
With Jack Crawford heading to IR and Courtney Upshaw still recovering from injury, the Falcons will likely be activating both DT Joe Vellano—who struggled mightily against the run in Week 4—and recently promoted practice squad DT Taniela Tupou. Falcons fans might remember Tupou from preseason, where he looked fairly impressive as a run defender against reserves. On Sunday, Atlanta will need him to continue that solid play against starters.
It’s very possible that both Vellano and Tupou see a decent share of snaps on Sunday, as the Falcons only have two other healthy DTs in the dynamic duo of Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe. Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby may also kick inside in nickel situations, but neither are capable of holding up in run defense on the interior. With the Dolphins’ likely to try running Jay Ajayi as much as possible, it may be up to these reserve players to perform capably as the game drags on.
Who are some players that you’ll be keeping an eye on during Sunday’s game? Any match-ups that you’ll be watching closely? Would you be more afraid of facing Jay Cutler or Matt Moore?