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THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: The Dolphins faced a very good passing attack last Sunday at Indianapolis, but they’re going to be facing an even better one this weekend. Quarterback Matt Ryan has looked sharp early this season, reaching the 300-yard mark in each of Atlanta’s first two games. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has perhaps the best receiving trio in the NFL with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones along with tight end Tony Gonzalez. Jones, off to a phenomenal start in 2013, is coming off an 11-catch, 182-yard performance against St. Louis. White is off to a quiet start, in large part because he’s been nursing a high ankle sprain. Harry Douglas has emerged as a solid third wide receiver, and Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers both are good receivers out of the backfield. The best way to stop the Atlanta passing game is with pressure. Ryan has been sacked five times this season.
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: Atlanta made the decision in the offseason to let go of veteran running back Michael Turner and replace him with longtime Rams star Steven Jackson, and the move looked good right off the bat when Jackson ripped off a 50-yard run at New Orleans. Jackson then added a scoring reception early in the game against his former team last Sunday, but he also sustained a quad injury on the play and already has been declared out for the game at Miami. With Jackson gone, the running duties now will go to Snelling and Rodgers, both of whom are more accustomed to third-down and change-of-pace roles. Complicating matters for Atlanta is the loss of fullback Bradie Ewing to a shoulder injury. He’s been placed on injured reserve and has been replaced by Patrick DiMarco, who was promoted from the practice squad. Atlanta’s offense has relied heavily on the passing game in recent years, but the Falcons now might struggle to achieve even a semblance of balance.
THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: Even though it’s a small sample, the Falcons have to be encouraged by the work of their run defense so far in the 2013 season. After giving up 4.8 yards per carry — a figure that ranked 29th in the league — in 2012, the Falcons held New Orleans and St. Louis to 3.1 yards per attempt. And keep in mind that the average was boosted by a 23-yard scramble from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Like the Dolphins, the Falcons have some depth at defensive tackle with Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, the brother of Dolphins guard
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: For a team that was considered by many a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Falcons do have a lot of concerns on defense. The most immediate is having to replace two starters who were lost in Sunday’s victory against the Rams — defensive end Kroy Biermann and outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. At first glance, the loss of Weatherspoon, who was put on injured reserve with the designation to return, would appear more damaging because he’s probably the best linebacker on the team. His spot in the starting lineup should be taken by Joplo Bartu. Biermann, however, was the one player the Falcons had hoped could provide the pass-rushing complement to starting defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the longtime Giants standout, who was brought in to replace John Abraham. As it stands now, the Falcons have to be concerned about their ability to generate a pass rush, especially after coming up with only two sacks in the first two games.
THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Only the diehard Dolphins fan would remember Matt Bryant in a Miami uniform. After all, he appeared in only three games back in 2004. But NFL fans know Bryant as a clutch kicker who has made himself a nice career, first in Tampa Bay and now in Atlanta. Bryant, who has made both of his field goal attempts this season, is 7-for-7 from 50 yards or beyond over the past three seasons. Along with Bryant, the Falcons have a quality young punter in former University of Miami standout Matt Bosher. He’s off to a tremendous start this season with a 49.9 gross average and a net of 47.2.
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: With two good kickers and solid coverage teams, the only place to look for a question mark is in the return game. In fairness, though, it’s a very small sample that we have. Still, in the first two games, Douglas averaged only 6.3 yards per punt return and Rodgers’ only kickoff return went for a mere 17 yards. Interestingly, Douglas was a terrific punt returner for the Falcons in 2008, but he didn’t return a punt again until 2012 when he had limited success doing it. As for Rodgers, the Dolphins would do well not to sleep on him considering he had a 77-yard kickoff return in the Falcons’ 2012 season opener at Kansas City.