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
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
4. Miami defensive end
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.