Michael Aprile is the editor-in-chief of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic post-game podcast that airs weekly.
The Falcons enter this game heavily favorited and much healthier than they were the last time we saw them take the field. Ricardo Allen, Ryan Schraeder, and Vic Beasley are all back in action against a Dolphins team who has yet to do anything remarkable this year (unless you consider how remarkably bad their offense has been).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons should be able to dominant in this one, plain and simple. Jay Cutler is having the worst season of his career, and Miami’s biggest threat on offense (Jay Ajayi) is no lock to play. Given the Dolphins’ struggles on the offensive line, this is setting up to be a signature performance for Atlanta’s defense.
If the Falcons can hold off Miami’s pass rush and aggressive defense, this one should be a walk in the park. Let’s check in on some of the more critical matchups that could be the difference in this game.
Falcons’ pass rush vs. Dolphins’ offensive line
With or without Vic Beasley at 100%, the Falcons need to put pressure on Jay Cutler and suffocate the Dolphins’ offense early and often. If Jay Ajayi doesn’t play, the pass rush becomes even more important as Miami will likely be forced to throw more than they’d like.
The Dolphins’ offensive line has struggled mightily this season despite having talented players at key positions. Laremy Tunsil is developing into one of the better left tackles in the AFC, and Mike Pouncey has always been a good center when healthy.
If Pouncey (hip) is unable to go, Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett could both have monster days against a weak interior.
With Jack Crawford out for the year and Courtney Upshaw still on the mend, expect rising player Joe Vellano to get quality snaps along the interior.
Takkarist McKinley has had an impressive rookie year thus far, and he’ll likely line up across from Ja’wuan James, a former first-round pick who’s had his share of struggles this season. Per PFF, only three rookies since 2006 have had a better pass-rush productivity than McKinley from the right edge through five weeks.
Dolphins’ receivers vs. Falcons’ cornerbacks
The Dolphins have one of the most underrated pass-catching trios in the league at wide receiver.
DaVante Parker is having the best season of his career, Kenny Stills can beat a defense deep at any moment, and Jarvis Landry is one of the toughest slot receivers to cover. If Parker (ankle) is unable to go, the Miami offense takes a big hit. Parker can go up and get the 50/50 jump balls, and his size is a problem for opposing cornerbacks.
Robert Alford’s speed makes him a good match for Stills, and Desmond Trufant’s agility aligns perfectly with Landry’s strengths.
With the talented Brian Poole in the slot, the Falcons should have the luxury of not letting the offense dictate where they line up, especially if Parker doesn’t go.
Look for the Falcons’ corners to stay aggressive and attempt to exorcise their turnover demons against the 32nd ranked offense in the league.
Falcons’ offensive Line vs. Dolphins’ pass rush
Ryan Schraeder’s long-awaited return from a concussion could not have come at a better time. The Dolphins will trot out the fearsome Cameron Wake, and the thought of him facing Ty Sambrailo is scarier than anything you’ll see on Halloween.
Miami registered six sacks last week against a stellar Tennessee offensive line, a cause for concern since the Falcons have had some protection issues this year.
Although Wes Schweitzer has steadily improved this year, Ndamukong Suh is easily the biggest test he’ll face this season. Schweitzer fared well against Suh in the preseason, but the regular season is a different beast altogether.
With rookie defensive end Charles Harris heating up, the Dolphins will bring pressure from nearly every direction. Fellow rookie Davon Godchaux has been a big hit for Miami, so Alex Mack and Andy Levitre will need to be aware of him at all times.
Which matchups will you be watching closely?