Dolphins Watch

September 13, 2009 4:25 AM

Dolphins should ground Falcons

After weeks of player moves, exhibition games and endless preseason analysis, the games are finally set to begin.

And the Miami Dolphins certainly face a difficult challenge in Week 1, at an Atlanta Falcons team that made the playoffs with an 11-5 record last year and is considered to be a rising power. It's the first of three straight games against playoff opponents for Miami. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. in Atlanta.

The Falcons boast one of the NFL's top offenses, led by second-year quarterback Matt Ryan. "Matty Ice" was a revelation in his first season, completing 61.1 percent of his passes and throwing for 16 touchdowns.

And he has plenty of weapons. Running back Michael Turner ran for 1,699 yards and scored 17 TDs in his first season in Atlanta, and he continued that dominance in the preseason, leading the Falcons with 187 yards rushing, two TDs and a remarkable 6.9 average per carry.

To stop the Falcons, the Dolphins must stop Turner first.

But even if they do, Ryan has several options in the passing game. Roddy White emerged as the team's best receiver in 2008, catching 88 passes for 1,382 yards and seven TDs, and Michael Jenkins caught 50 passes for 777 yards and three TDs.

Atlanta also added maybe the greatest pass-catching tight end in NFL history: Tony Gonzalez, who caught 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 TDs last season with Kansas City.

The Dolphins addressed their secondary in the offseason, bringing in rookie corners Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, along with former Oakland Raiders safety Gibril Wilson. The hope is they will shore up a pass defense that ranked 25th last year.

However, Wilson and fellow safety Yeremiah Bell struggled in pass coverage in the preseason, and if that doesn't change Sunday, Allen and Smith are going to have to be on the top of their game.

Allen will likely draw the assignment of covering White, with Smith covering Jenkins. Davis will play after suffering a knee strain in the final preseason game against New Orleans, but the Dolphins must find a way to match up with Gonzalez, who could be Ryan's top target Sunday.

Miami should also have an improved pass rush, with Joey Porter and his 17 1/2 sacks getting support from the return of Jason Taylor, who will start at the other outside linebacker position.

Offensively, the Dolphins face a young and inexperienced defense.

The Falcons brought in five new defensive starters after finishing 25th in the league against the run, and 24th overall.

Peria Jerry, a 6-foot-2, 294-pound defensive tackle from Ole Miss who Atlanta drafted with the 24th overall pick this year, will start his first NFL game against Miami.

The Falcons also promoted free safety Thomas DeCloud, outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas and cornerback Brent Grimes.

The new-look secondary struggled in the preseason, allowing a whopping 8.3 yards per completion, which should excite a veteran passer like Chad Pennington.

Ted Ginn will start at one wide receiver position, while Coach Tony Sparano said the team will rotate several receivers at the other spot, from among Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess and Ohio State rookie Brian Hartline. The Dolphins will also likely find time for another rookie, Patrick Turner of USC.

Running the football was a problem for the Dolphins in preseason, particularly with the first unit. That will have to change, so the Dolphins can keep defensive end John Abraham and his team-leading 16 1/2 sacks at bay.

Also, the Dolphins will likely break out the "Wildcat" formation that has become a staple of offenses across the league.

Second round pick Pat White did not run the "Wildcat" during preseason, but he could be called upon to give the Falcons something else to think about.

The Dolphins defense may not stop Michael Turner, but I think they will be able to slow him down.

Ryan and his offense are too talented to be shut down, but Pennington is going against a young defense that will surely make some mistakes.

I think Miami will get just enough offense to eke out a win, 20-16.

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