Atlanta Falcons: Cameron Wake

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 27, Falcons 23

September, 22, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 27-23 victory against the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: The Dolphins are just one of five teams to improve to 3-0 to start the season. The Chicago Bears (2-0) have a chance to become the sixth undefeated team with a win Sunday night. It surely wasn’t pretty for Miami. The Dolphins needed a fourth-quarter comeback from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw the game-winning touchdown to rookie tight end Dion Sims, and a little luck in the form of a missed 34-yard field goal late by Matt Bryant. For the Falcons (1-2), this is another heartbreaking loss for a talented team that is having trouble closing out games. Many believed Atlanta had potential to go the Super Bowl in the preseason. But its failure to finish is a major concern.

Stock watch: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got off to a fast start, completing 15 of his first 17 passes. Julio Jones had another big game with nine receptions for 115 yards. Tannehill was beaten up but kept his composure with several big throws on the final drive. He threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Trending down was Miami’s surprisingly poor tackling against Atlanta. The Dolphins missed on numerous opportunities for key stops because of not finishing plays. Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas didn’t do much on offense (one reception, nine yards) and lost a key fumble in the second half on special teams.

Wake injury: Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and didn’t return to the game. He remained dressed the rest of the game but didn’t return. Wake is Miami’s best pass-rusher and would be a big loss if he has to miss future games. Miami starting outside linebacker Koa Misi also injured his shoulder in the second half and didn’t return.

What’s next: This was a big game for both teams. The Falcons will host the undefeated New England Patriots (3-0) in a big game next week at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta could be in big trouble if it starts 1-3. The Dolphins will travel next week for a huge clash against the undefeated New Orleans SaintsNew Orleans Saints (3-0) on “Monday Night Football.”
Atlanta Falcons left guard Justin Blalock was brutally honest when asked to assess Miami Dolphins pass rush demon Cameron Wake.

"He's pretty damn good, obviously," Blalock said of Wake. "He's one of the elite pass-rushers in this league. And I'm glad I don't have to play tackle out there."

Blalock said the latter while holding in his laughter, but containing Wake will be no joke. The task of slowing down Wake is likely to fall on veteran newcomer Jeremy Trueblood, who is slated to start at right tackle for the depleted Falcons on Sunday after signing with the team Sept. 3.

[+] EnlargeCameron Wake
Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCTContaining Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake will be a high priority for the Falcons on Sunday.
Starting left tackle Sam Baker is out with knee/foot issues, meaning Lamar Holmes will switch to left tackle after starting the first two games at right tackle.

Holmes became a starter after Mike Johnson suffered a season-ending broken left leg and dislocated left ankle. And had it not been for salary-cap concerns, Tyson Clabo might have been the starting right tackle for the Falconson Sunday rather than the starting right tackle for the opposing Dolphins.

Confused yet? That's exactly how Wake might make the Falcons' offensive line feel Sunday. He has 2.5 of his team's nine sacks through two games to go with a handful of quarterback hits. Wake earned his sack total in a Week 1 win over the Browns. He had 15 sacks last season and has 45.5 in 64 career games.

"All in all, you just have to be ready for whatever he throws at you," Holmes said about Wake. "His overall ability just to play the game just makes him such a good player."

Statistics would indicate Wake might have his way. The much-maligned Falcons offensive line has struggled to keep pressure off quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked three times in a season-opening loss to the Saints and twice during last week's win over the Rams. According to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus, the Falcons rank second-to-last in the NFL in cumulative pass-blocking (minus-12.4). Baker had the lowest grade among 68 offensive tackles (minus-12) while Holmes stood 62nd (minus-3.9), according to PFF rankings.

Holmes might not be matched up on Wake much Sunday -- Wake typically lines up on the side of the right tackle -- but Holmes contends he has learned from his early-season struggles.

"You take some of it personal, but you also have to take some of it with a grain of salt," Holmes said. "We've got to keep Matt clean, keep him upright, keep the pocket wide so he can make the throws that he needs to make to get down the field."

Come Sunday, the Falcons won't expect Trueblood, Holmes or anybody else to neutralize Wake one-on-one. Anticipate double-teaming and chipping, when applicable. Ryan has to get the ball out quick, which he has shown the ability to do consistently. And the screen game to players such as receiver Julio Jones and running back Jacquizz Rodgers has to be effective, especially against a Dolphins team that likes to blitz.

Rodgers, set to get more touches with Steven Jackson (hamstring) out, actually hasn't allowed a single pressure in 14 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That's a great complement against a blitzing team. But much of the burden in contending with constant pressure falls on the offensive line.

"I don't think we could be any more focused on keeping Matt clean," Blalock said. "It's not a perfect world. It's not going to always happen. But that's at the forefront of our thoughts going into any game, regardless of how many people we have injured."