Friday, September 11, 2009

Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview

Game day is almost here and DolFans are asking the million dollar question: how will Miami fare against Atlanta? We break it down and evaluate Miami's chances by every facet of the game.

Who Has the Better Offense?

Many people see the Dolphins and Falcons as identical teams in a sense - both had resurrecting seasons last year and made the playoffs. The Dolphins used the Wild Cat early on to fight their way to victory. Atlanta used Matt Ryan's golden arm and Michael Turner's feather feet to put points on the board and win games.

So which team has the advantage on Sunday?

The running back cores of each team exhibit power and versatility. Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood on one end and Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the other. The Falcons have the more powerful starting RB, while the Fins have more depth and a better combo (maybe even trio - don't forget Patrick Cobbs).

Depending on how the game plays out, the running game could favor either team. If the defenses are not defending the run well, then Atlanta will likely get the most of it. If both sides are stingy against the run, then Miami has more depth to battle it out and keep the rush alive.

On the passing end of things, you face a slighly diferent scenario. Matt Ryan is obviously the pure passer, with arm strength on his side. Chad Pennington has experience, accuracy and efficiency on his side. Miami's secondary must watch out for Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and the other targets Ryan has on his side. If the CBs are getting burned it may just be a long day for the Fins. The Falcons aren't notorious for a great secondary either, which is a plus for Pennington's game-managing style and short passes - it will keep drives alive, the defense on the field and the offense on the bench.

In essence, the secondary has to step up and the offense has to capitalize on key match-ups. Those are the keys to Miami's success overall.

Who Has the Better Defense?

If this were based on the team that has the bigger names then Miami would have the upper hand. Sure, Atlanta has John Abraham, but Miami has Jason Ferguson, Jason Taylor, Joey Porter and Channing Crowder. Most people around the league can recognize those players for their talents and accomplishments.

Based on statistics there are more valid reasons as to why Miami has the advantage:

2008 NFL Team Statistics (according to
  • Total Defense: Miami = 15th, Atlanta = 24th
  • Rushing Defense: Miami = 10th, Atlanta = 25th
  • Passing Defense: Atlanta = 21st, Miami = 25th
Things have changed, players have been added, but the core of both teams have stayed. Rankings change every season, but typically not by a drastic number. Miami will have rookies integrated into the secondary this season, which will be a weak point for the defense. At the same time, Atlanta was not known last season for it's defense and made no major acquisitions in the off season to sure up their defensive woes.

Miami gets a clear advantage here, but has plenty to worry about with Atlanta's weapons.

Who Has the Better Special Teams?

A major point of concern for Miami this pre season was the special teams unit. Too many big returns, too many missed tackles and not enough consistency. According the Rick Gosselin's NFL special teams rankings, the Dolphins were in the bottom three of the NFL (30th), while the Falcons were in a tie for 10th.

Not expecting to make a huge improvement for Miami or a massive drop off from Atlanta, the Falcons are given the edge here. The Fins didn't do much to add better special teams players and may suffer from that. Beware of the kickoff and punts this Sunday, it may not be pretty for DolFans.

Side Note: The punt/kick returning position has not been officially addressed by the Dolphins, but may default to last year's go-to guy, Davone Bess. Unfortunately, the Black Eyed Peas singer, will not be given a walk-on spot with the team.

Who Has the Better Coaching Staff?

Atlanta's head coach, Mike Smith, won NFL Coach of the Year last season, with Tony Sparano falling just short of the award. When looking at the situations both coaches were put in, they did an impressive job of reviving franchises that were in a deep hole. The Falcons were still plagued by Michael Vick's departure a few seasons back and Miami was coming off a 1-15 season. With Coach Smith and Coach Sparano, both teams regained the respect of their fans and the league.

In that sense, the coaching aspect is a dead on tie. Then again, there are more than just head coaches on a team.

Miami's offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, was last year's savior when he brought in the Wild Cat during a crucial week three match-up against the Patriots. From then on it became a part of Miami's offense. Mike Mularkey is Atlanta's offensive coordinator and did a fine job at calling the right running plays for Michael Turner and the right passing plays for Matt Ryan.

Play-calling creativity goes to Miami, while Atlanta gets credit for fitting plays to players.

Defensively, the choice is obvious. Miami has a more sound defense than Atlanta and that is in large part to Paul Pasqualoni's coaching. Pasqualoni doesn't get much recognition for his efforts, but is highly valued by the Dolphins organization. On the other end, Brian VanGorder still needs some work to do in order to elevate Atlanta from the sub-par defensive rankings they currently hold.

Key Match-Ups
  • Quarterbacks: Chad Pennington vs. Matt Ryan
  • Wide Receivers: Ted Ginn Jr. vs Roddy White
  • Running Backs: Ronnie Brown vs. Michael Turner
  • Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano vs. Tony Gonzalez
  • Defensive Linemen: Jason Ferguson vs. John Abraham
Potential Game-Changers for Miami
  • Jason Taylor/Joey Porter - Matt Ryan may be on his butt more than on his feet.
  • Ricky Williams - Fresh legs + tired defense = plenty of yards.
  • Sean Smith - Another order of one-handed interceptions, please?
Final Verdict

For the most part, Atlanta and Miami have similar features and seem to be a clone of each other at times. When looking deeper, the Falcons have more weapons on offense, while Miami has the clear advantage on defense. Creativity will play a big role in this game as the Wild Cat will likely be in effect. If Atlanta can stop it, it's not the end of the world for Miami, but it will take away from the dynamic play-calling. Expect the unexpected from the Fins in Atlanta.

Final Score Prediction: Miami-27, Atlanta-17

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