Posted Aug 8, 2014

Breaking down the Dolphins-Falcons matchup.


DATE: Friday, Aug. 8
TIME: 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Georgia Dome; Atlanta, Ga.
TV: In Miami-Fort Lauderdale, WFOR-TV (CBS 4); in Fort Myers, WBBH-TV (Channel 2); in West Palm Beach, WTVX-TV (Channel 34) and WWHB (Channel 48, Spanish); in Orlando, WRDQ (Channel 27)
TV ANNOUNCERS:(Dick Stockton, play-by-play; Bob Griese, analysis; Nat Moore, analysis; Kim Bokamper, sideline)
ONLINE: Game available on computer or tablet. Details at
TV REPLAY: NFL Network, Saturday, Aug. 9 at 10 a.m. and Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. Fox Sports Florida, Sunday, Aug. 10 at 8 .m. and Monday, Aug. 11 at 2 p.m.


SERIES RECORD: Atlanta leads 7-5
AT MIAMI: Falcons lead 5-3
AT ATLANTA: Teams tied 2-2
LAST MEETING: 2012 at Miami; Falcons 23, Dolphins 6
SERIES TREND: Atlanta has won three of the past four preseason meetings, scoring 20 points or more in three of those four contests. The Falcons overall have reached the 20-point mark in eight of the 12 preseason contests between the teams.
HISTORY LESSON: The Dolphins scored 28 points in two of their three previous preseason visits to the Georgia Dome, winning 28-27 in 1993 and 28-23 in 2011. The other visit came in 1995 and resulted in a 37-0 loss.


OVERVIEW: As chronicled by the cameras of “Hard Knocks,” the Falcons are looking to return to the top of the NFC hierarchy after crumbling to 4-12 in a 2013 season filled with close losses and key injuries. Much of the same personnel remains from the team that only two seasons ago reached the NFC Championship Game before losing a four-point decision at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
NEW FACES: T Jake Matthews (draft-1st round), DE Ra’Shede Hageman (draft-2nd), RB Devonta Freeman (draft-4th), CB Javier Arenas (Arizona), G Jon Asamoah (Kansas City), WR/KR Devin Hester (Chicago), DT Paul Soliai (Miami), DT Tyson Jackson (Kansas City).
VETERANS GONE: S Thomas DeCoud (released), LB Akeem Dent (traded-Houston), FB Bradie Ewing (released), TE Tony Gonzalez (retired), LB Stephen Nicholas (released), CB Asante Samuel (released), RB Jason Snelling (retired).
THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: All indications early in training camp are that wide receiver Julio Jones is fully recovered from the foot injury that limited him to five games in 2013. With Jones healthy, there probably isn’t a team in the NFL that can match the Falcons’ starting wide receiver tandem of Jones and Roddy White. Atlanta also has a quality third wide receiver in Harry Douglas, although there’s no question the Falcons will miss the presence of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez at tight end.
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: Atlanta brought in three-time Pro Bowl selection Steven Jackson to spark its running game last season, but he was limited to a career-high 543 yards. Part of it was due to a couple of minor injuries and part of it was due to a sub-par performance by the offensive line. The Falcons are confident they’ve shored up their offensive line, but Jackson already has been sidelined this summer by a bad hamstring. Atlanta also has high hopes for rookie Devonta Freeman, a star last season for national champion Florida State.
THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: The Falcons actually struggled against both the run and the pass last season, but there’s reason to believe the run defense will be much improved after the offseason acquisitions of defensive tackles Tyson Jackson and former Dolphins Pro Bowl selection Paul Soliai, along with the selection of Ra’Shede Hageman in the second round of the 2014 draft.
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: The Falcons have some talent at cornerback with 2013 draft picks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but the secondary as a whole needs to improve after allowing opponents to compile a combined passer rating of 102.5 last season. Of course, it would help if the Falcons could generate more of a pass rush than they did last season. Atlanta is hoping that defensive end Kroy Biermann, back after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, and third-year player Jonathan Massaquoi can make an impact in that department.
THE FALCONS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The Atlanta return game was nothing spectacular last season, but they added the greatest returner of our generation when they signed Devin Hester in the offseason. The former University of Miami standout brings to the Falcons his 18 career touchdowns on returns. He had another tremendous year returning kicks last season — he ranked fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average (27.6) and his 14.2 average on punt returns would have been good enough for third had he had enough attempts to qualify.
THE FALCONS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: With Hester on board, Matt Bosher as the punter and veteran Matt Bryant as the kicker, the Falcons are solid in just about every aspect of special teams. The one statistical category where Atlanta ranked low in 2013 was in kickoff return average allowed; the Falcons were 25th, giving up an average return of 24.8 yards. But it should be noted that the longest kickoff return against Atlanta last season was good for only 36 yards.

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