AC in the AM: How The Dolphins Win This Game

Posted Oct 13, 2017

The Miami Dolphins are about to face their stiffest challenge of the still young season Sunday against the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. What should we expect? Can they play their best when they need it the most?

That’s the urgency of a Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. The Falcons are the real deal. Have been for a while. You don’t go 11-5 last season and start 3-1 this season without top-tier talent on both sides of the ball. They have an offense that might just have the most potent quarterback/running back/wide receiver combination in the league. They have a defense that causes you plenty of problems.

The theme around the Dolphins locker room this week was the same whether you were talking to offensive linemen or defensive backs.

“We’ve got to bring our A game,” said cornerback Xavien Howard.

As good as the Dolphins defense has played through four games – and there are encouraging signs everywhere – it is too much to ask that defense to shut down the Falcons the way they did the Titans a Sunday ago. I mean you’ve got Matt Ryan throwing passes, Julius Jones catching passes and Devonta Freeman running the ball. Slow them down? Sure. Stop them? You just don’t see that happen very often even against the best of defenses.

So this game, I would certainly anticipate, will come down once again to the Dolphins offense and its ability to right so many of the things that have gone wrong through four games. I’m not asking for a shootout, just some consistency. Just some ball control. Just a few big plays. Just enough quality throws from Jay Cutler, enough tackle-busting runs by Jay Ajayi, to keep things close deep into the game. Then, you can give the defense a chance to make some game-deciding plays.

The record says the Dolphins remain in the thick of things at 2-2. And that’s certainly true when you consider that the other three AFC East teams all have two losses as well. But the story behind the record suggests that the Dolphins need to get a whole lot better on offense, and do in a hurry, in order to remain in the postseason hunt over the course of the season.

You just can’t continue a pace where you’ve scored three offensive touchdowns in the first four games. You can’t continue to get little help from the running game or inconsistent blocking from the offensive line or sporadic play from the passing game and expect positive results. It just doesn’t happen. Not in the league. And certainly not against a team with as much firepower as the Falcons.

I have admired the resolve of this Dolphins team all season, how the players have dealt with so much adversity, how they have overcome so much and how they have refused to let the good defense/poor offense combination adversely affect the fabric of their locker room.

Still, as Jay Cutler put it a few days ago: “We have to at least reach their (defense’s) level. We have to do our part.”

One blueprint to victory is on tape. Two weeks ago, before the Falcons had their bye, the Buffalo Bills came into that brand new stadium and figured out a way to leave with a 23-17 victory. You can be sure the Dolphins now have a thorough understanding of how that was accomplished.

But the Dolphins need to create their own blueprint, and I’m sure they have. Since I can’t get a hold of it – you know I’ve tried -- I’ve come up with my own personal five-point blueprint to victory. See if you agree.

• Get Jay Cutler going early: Think what it could mean to this offense if Cutler could hit on some early passes, if he could get enough protection to survey the field and, who knows, maybe even find Kenny Stills streaking down the sideline. The Dolphins have been setting the tone on defense. Why not do it this Sunday on offense?

• Make the Falcons offense one-dimensional: You probably can’t take it all away, but if you can limit Freeman, if you can do what the rushing defense has already done to four other teams, then you have a chance to put some pressure on Matt Ryan in sure passing situations. That’s got to be the mindset. Stop the run. Limit the options. Create a sense of imbalance.

• Establish a physical presence with Jay Ajayi: You can probably write this sentence in every week because it is so important to the overall success of this team. The offense is a different offense when Ajayi is producing, when he breaks off a few 10-yarders to set the right tone. Here’s a stat that’s hard to ignore: The Dolphins are 10-0 in games when Ajayi has carried the ball at least 18 times. I went into this season believing that Ajayi would be the key to this entire team and I haven’t wavered in that thinking. He needs to become the identity of this offense once again.

• Win special teams: Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for Jakeem Grant to be, well, Jakeem Grant. Imagine the emotional boost a long-distance special delivery score would provide. The Dolphins need to find an edge against a team like the Falcons. They had a clear special teams edge in the opener against the Chargers and it was the difference in that game. They wouldn’t mind it being the difference again.

• Find a way in the fourth quarter: Did this offense turn a proverbial corner with its fourth quarter touchdown drive against the Titans? That’s what we need to find out. It was the best scoring drive of the season, a nice mixture of running and passing. “We found a nice rhythm late,” said Cutler. They’ll have to do it again to upset the Falcons. It may just mean running out the clock. Could mean a big stand on defense. Or maybe a last second field goal by Cody Parkey. Guess you could call that a finishing kick.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by our columnists and bloggers 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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