Atlanta Falcons: Ryan Tannehill

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 27, Falcons 23

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
7:06
PM ET

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.”
Ryan Tannehill and Julio JonesUSA TODAY SportsRyan Tannehill and the undefeated Dolphins will try to upset Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Miami Dolphins are basking in the light of a 2-0 start while the Atlanta Falcons are just trying to find some healthy bodies.

The two teams play each other Sunday in a game that has big implications in the AFC East and NFC South races.

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine this matchup:

Yasinskas: James, like many, I thought the Dolphins would be an improved team. But it's looking like they might be even better than I thought. They've gone out and started their season with two big wins on the road. What's going right for the Dolphins and, more importantly, how good are they?

Walker: It's early, Pat, but Miami is already exceeding my expectations. I pegged the Dolphins to be an 8-8 team this year. That still could happen if the team loses focus, but Miami is on pace to do better. I credit two things: improved playmaking ability and the growth of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami committed more than $200 million in free-agent contracts to players like receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. All of those players came up big in last Sunday's win over the Indianapolis Colts. When you add in the fact Tannehill has improved in his second year, it's easy to see why the Dolphins are also taking the next step. Atlanta is a team many believe is a Super Bowl contender, but the group is banged up. Pat, how much will injuries impact the Falcons in this game?

Yasinskas: Atlanta has some major injury problems. The Falcons had to put defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve this week and there are reports that running back Steven Jackson will miss a few weeks. The loss of Biermann means the Falcons will have to play rookies Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow at linebacker and second-year pro Jonathan Massaquoi at defensive end. If Jackson is out, the Falcons will have to go with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as their running backs, and that's a sharp drop-off. That probably means the Falcons will pass even more than usual and rely on Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is Miami's secondary ready for that tandem?

Walker: I had a good conversation with Miami's top cornerback, Grimes, on Tuesday. He was complimentary of both White and Jones -- and Grimes would know. The former Falcon watched both receivers grow in Atlanta and practiced against them. It will be fun to see who has the advantage between Grimes and White/Jones, depending on the play. Grimes told me they all know each other so well that it's probably a push. The bigger concern for Miami's secondary is the other cornerback spot. Veteran starter Dimitri Patterson didn't play in Week 2 due to a groin injury. He's working his way back and could play Sunday. Rookie corners Will Davis and Jamar Taylor also returned to practice this week, which could provide depth. Similar to the game against Indianapolis, Miami must do a lot of things schematically to cover up its issues opposite Grimes. That includes using the safeties over the top and getting a good pass rush. Speaking of pass rush, the Dolphins have nine sacks in the first two games. Can they exploit the Falcons in this area?

Yasinskas: Miami's pass rush has to be a major concern for the Falcons. Atlanta revamped its offensive line in the offseason and it's taking some time to come together. The right side of the line is of particular concern with guard Garrett Reynolds and Lamar Holmes as the starters. Reynolds is average at best and Holmes, a second-year pro, was thrown into the starting lineup when Mike Johnson went down with an injury in the preseason. Holmes is very much a work in progress, so the Falcons will have to try to give him some help by getting their tight ends and running backs involved as pass-blockers. Still, Atlanta should be able to move the ball through the air because it has Matt Ryan, Jones, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Has Tannehill developed enough to win a shootout?

Walker: That's an interesting question, Pat. I'm not sure anyone -- even Miami's coaching staff -- has the answer. I did notice the Dolphins' game plan in Week 1 against Cleveland was fairly conservative compared to Week 2 against Indianapolis. Those are two different teams, and perhaps the Dolphins realized they needed to be more aggressive throwing and take more vertical shots deep to match Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. This is a similar type of challenge, because Atlanta's offense is built around scoring points in the passing game. Tannehill is getting better at taking over parts of a game in Year 2. His play in the second half the past two weeks has been terrific. The Dolphins are outscoring opponents 24-6 in the third and fourth quarters, in part because Tannehill is moving the chains, putting points on the board and keeping Miami's defense fresh. I don't expect this game to be all on Tannehill's shoulders. The defense remains the strength of the Dolphins. Keeping Atlanta's scoring around 23 points or fewer, as opposed to having Tannehill throw for 400 yards, is probably Miami's best shot to win.

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