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As third games go, this one carries a lot of weight. A legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Atlanta Falcons, coming to Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins opening at home after back-to-back road wins. A sellout crowd wanting so bad to believe that a 2-0 record isn’t a tease, but a real sign of progress.
It is late September and the Miami Dolphins have a real chance to become one of the surprise teams of this young NFL season.
Nobody needs to be reminded that a 3-0 start has eluded this franchise for more than a decade or that the last time the Dolphins started 2-0 (2010) they finished 7-9. That’s yesterday’s news. Based on what we have seen so far, these are clearly not yesterday’s Dolphins.
But Sunday is an important step, the stiffest test of the early season. The Falcons are legit. They have a passing game that is as good as any outside of Denver and New Orleans. They have a playoff pedigree and a clearly defined goal of playing on the first Sunday in February. This is an important game for them as well.
Anything the Dolphins couldn’t learn about the Falcons by watching the tape they found out by picking the brains of Brent Grimes and Tyson Clabo, who both played for them last season.
“Matt Ryan can make you look real bad out there,” said Grimes.
“They really come after you on defense,” said Clabo.
I like the Dolphins in this game for a couple of reasons. The Falcons will be without their top running threat in Steven Jackson and that will undoubtedly give them a more one-dimensional look. The Falcons, through two games, are giving up almost 350 passing yards a game, which clearly feeds into the offensive strength of the Dolphins.
Clearly, though, the Falcons are a better team than the Colts. But quarterback Matt Ryan can’t maneuver in the pocket the way Andrew Luck did and that could mean more success for a Dolphins pass rush that has produced nine sacks in two games.
So many interesting subplots in this game. So many matchups that could sway the outcome one way or another. Here are two I am especially interested in:
• Brent Grimes against Julio Jones: I don’t expect Grimes to be isolated on Jones the entire game, but I do expect them to see plenty of one another.
Jones is one of pro football’s top big-play threats. Caught an 81-yard touchdown pass last week. He is physical. He is elusive. And he can flat out run. Jones is 6-4; Grimes is maybe 5-10. You can teach a lot of things; you can’t teach height. “I just have to use proper technique and let me athletic ability take over,” Grimes said.
If Julio Jones doesn’t have a big game, it’s hard to imagine the Falcons winning.
• Tony Gonzalez against the Dolphins safeties and linebackers. If I have an issue with how the defense has played through two games, it is an inability to consistently cover the tight end. Jordan Cameron had a big day for the Browns in opener and Coby Fleener had the same type of success for the Colts.
Neither player should be considered among the elite tight ends in the league. But Tony Gonzalez is. He is a sure-thing first ballot Hall of Famer and while age has tempered some of his skills, he remains an imposing threat, certainly near the goal line.
The Dolphins better get a whole lot better in a hurry or Gonzalez will put up big numbers. This falls on the safeties and, on some plays, the linebackers. Can they afford to double team Gonzalez? At what expense? It’ll be interesting to see what tactics the Dolphins employ.
So this brutal three-game stretch begins. Nobody needs to be reminded that New Orleans and Baltimore are next. But it’s all about Atlanta right now and a chance for the Dolphins to show they can be as proficient at home as they were on the road.
On Monday, AC in the AM analyzes the game against the Falcons.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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