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Dolphins-Falcons: Five Things To Watch

Posted Aug 23, 2012

Late August is when the pressure picks up around the National Football League because that is when the critical third preseason game is played.

Tonight at Sun Life Stadium, two principles for the Miami Dolphins – Head Coach Joe Philbin and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill – will have the spotlight focused squarely on them. For Philbin, the Atlanta Falcons will admittedly be the first opponent he and his staff have seriously game planned for, and for Tannehill this will be his second straight start but his first as the anointed starting quarterback for Miami.

Miami’s defense also will need to rebound from two rough outings against Tampa Bay and Carolina by slowing down Atlanta’s high-powered offense. Fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his four seasons and has dangerous weapons on the outside like Roddy White and Julio Jones, so Miami’s cornerbacks and safeties will be tested.

This is also the game that can decide the fate of quite a few players seemingly on the bubble of making the final roster. The league mandates that teams cut down their rosters from 90 to 75 by 4 p.m., Monday and then from 75 to the final 53 by 9 p.m., next Friday.

“There are a lot of jobs up for stake in terms of 53,” Philbin said. “We’ve played around a different game, probably four or five times, ‘this is my 53 today, this is my 53 after Tampa Bay, this is my 53 before Carolina, this is it after Carolina.’ It’s kind of fun. Everybody has their own opinions and it’s kind of fun to keep track of, but it’s getting down to the time where it’s going to be serious business for a lot of guys. So I think there are quite a few jobs opened up.”

Five Things To Watch:

1. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill versus Falcons pass rush: Last week at Carolina, Tannehill was sacked three times and hit quite a few more, but he admitted as did Philbin that one of those sacks fell on him for not stepping up in the pocket. Now that he knows he has won the starting job, Tannehill needs to help validate that choice by making the right decisions tonight and being cognizant of Atlanta’s blitzes and stunts. The fact that he was in the building early Tuesday watching film of last year’s Miami defense under current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was a good sign to Philbin that his young quarterback is on the right track.

2. Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry versus Miami right guard John Jerry: Family feuds are always entertaining to watch, but this battle in the trenches between the Jerry brothers will be one of the most important ones to watch. Not only is John Jerry trying to win the starting job in his third season as a third-round draft pick, but he needs to give Philbin and offensive line coach Jim Turner confidence that he can help shore up the right side of that line and make life a little easier for Tannehill. John’s older brother won’t be a pushover just because that’s his family across the line of scrimmage, so look for some intense collisions between the two.

3. Falcons cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel versus Dolphins young receivers: There are 11 wide receivers still in Miami’s camp vying for possibly six spots and this is the last chance for the group of youngsters waging a tight competition to separate themselves. So look for Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Clyde Gates, Jeff Fuller, B.J. Cunningham, Chris Hogan and Rishard Matthews to all line up opposite Robinson early on and test their skills against an accomplished nine-year veteran in Robinson and 10-year veteran in Samuel. Whoever has the most success should have the inside track on joining Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee and a healthy Brian Hartline in that position room.

4. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake versus Atlanta right tackle Tyson Clabo: After so many years of the left tackle being tasked with facing the opponent’s fiercest pass rusher, defenses have caught on and moved their top guys to the right side. This is Wake’s first time in the NFL that he will be lining up with his hand in the ground after making his mark two years ago as an outside linebacker with 14 sacks. The pass rush has been non-existent in the first two preseason games for the Dolphins, so if Wake can harass Ryan and force the Falcons to provide Clabo with some help, that should open things up on the left side for Jared Odrick and rookie Olivier Vernon. Wake’s success will go a long way to easing the mind of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

5. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin versus Falcons head coach Mike Smith: Now that Philbin has moved forward with his toughest decision so far as a head coach – choosing his starting quarterback, he needs to see how he stacks up on game day with real preparation. Across the field from him will be a coach in Smith who won Coach of the Year honors as a rookie back in 2008 and has guided his team into the postseason all but once. Both coaches want to make a statement in this game, with Smith hoping to establish Atlanta as the favorite to win the NFC South and Philbin looking to cement a foundation for this season and beyond. There will be no punches pulled in this one.
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