We’re finally here folks. The first week of the preseason is upon us, which means we’re one step closer to real, actual, meaningful football. Still, for the analysts and obsessed-fans among us (let’s be real: if you’re reading this, you’re probably in one or both of those groups) the preseason games provide a unique opportunity to scout the depth and young talent on the roster.
We’ll get to see the likes of Matt Schaub, Matt Simms, and Alek Torgersen (who we all know has no chance of making the roster because he isn’t named Matt) take on the recently-signed Jay Cutler and back-up Matt Moore. It’s unlikely the starters will see more than a series or two, but it will be fascinating nonetheless because IT’S FALCONS FOOTBALL BABY.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how these two teams match up statistically on offense and defense. Keep in mind, these stats are from the 2016 season, so neither team is likely to be exactly the same—this is more of a general guide to strengths and weaknesses than an accurate measurement.
Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Dolphins 22.7 (17th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Dolphins 332.8 (24th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Dolphins 218.8 (26th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Dolphins 27 (12th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Dolphins 114.0 (9th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Dolphins 14 (15th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Dolphins 37% (25th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (5th), Dolphins +2 (14th)
Ah, what a magical season 2016 was for Atlanta. The offense was dominant on a level we have never quite seen before from the Falcons. They were just as awesome statistically as they were by the eye-test—top-5 in every offensive category save third down efficiency, where they were merely 11th. The 2016 Falcons’ 33.8 points per game were so ridiculously high that they were a full 4.5 points above the second place team. Needless to say, this team should once again be very dangerous on offense.
The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, were a largely average to slightly below-average offense in 2016. Their overall numbers were pretty uninspiring (17th in points, 24th in yards), and their passing offense struggled (26th). Where they found success was in the run game, with electric RB Jay Ajayi bursting onto the scene (9th). They should be good in the run game once again, but the passing offense is a big question mark with Ryan Tannehill’s season in doubt.
Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Dolphins 23.8 (18th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Dolphins 382.6 (29th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Dolphins 242.2 (15th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Dolphins 30 (T-25th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Dolphins 140.4 (30th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Dolphins 12 (T-13th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Dolphins 36% (4th)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Dolphins 33 (T-19th)
The stats don’t really tell the full story for the Atlanta Falcons’ 2016 defense, especially when you consider that they were very successful against two of the better offenses in the NFL in the postseason (which isn’t included in these statistics). Still, the unit was largely bottom of the league before the bye week, and merely average afterwards. Quinn’s defense struggled against the pass (28th), but managed to perform better against the run (17th). Expectations are high for this unit to improve significantly in 2017.
Miami’s defense was essentially below-average in 2016. They were decent in scoring defense (18th), but atrocious in yards allowed (29th). The Dolphins were better against the pass (15th) than the run (30th), but managed to be a top-5 defense on third down (36% conversion rate). There is plenty of hope for this unit to improve in 2017, particularly with the additions of DE Charles Harris and LB Raekwon McMillan in rounds 1 and 2 of the 2017 draft, respectively.
This is an interesting match-up for the first preseason game, particularly with the intrigue surrounding the Dolphins’ QB situation. Jay Cutler is the presumed starting QB for at least part of the season, and he’ll have only had a few days of practice before the Falcons come to town. That might lead to Miami giving their starters a bit more run than normal, or it might lead to Matt Moore taking essentially all the starters’ reps.
The Falcons should obviously have the advantage on offense. Even if they aren’t as incredible as they were in 2016, they’ll likely continue to be a top-10 unit at worst. It’ll be interesting to see how the starting line performs in pass pro and run blocking with a new starter at RG in the mix (there will probably be at least a series or two of Garland and Schweitzer).
On defense, things are more cloudy. Neither team had a stellar unit in 2016, and neither figures to play their starters for more than a series or two. It’s essentially a wash. Still, it will be exciting to see some of the Falcons’ new additions on the field together for the first time. Rookies like Duke Riley and Damontae Kazee—who have been impressing early in camp—should see plenty of action.
Overall Advantage: Falcons
Who are some players that you’re looking forward to watching? Are you excited for your first taste of 2017 Falcons’ football?