3TFO: Falcons @ Dolphins, Week 3
The 1-1 Falcons are viewed by many as one of the strongest teams in the league. In fact, our own Power Rankings currently have Atlanta as the seventh-best team in the league, while Miami resides in 14th despite their 2-0 record. Both teams have struggled to establish a running game, and both have had some challenges defending the pass at times. Atlanta has run the ball fewer times than anyone in the league, and that could very well continue since they’ll be without Steven Jackson. With the running games potentially taking a back seat this week, we’ll focus on some of the key matchups that will affect each team’s ability to move the ball through the air.
Dolphins Defensive Backs vs. Falcons Passing Game
Up to this point, four out of Miami’s six defensive backs who’ve seen significant snaps have graded in the green (+1.0 or better) in coverage. Leading the pack is former Falcon Brent Grimes at +3.7. Atlanta didn’t think he was worth the injury risk after missing an entire season, but so far Grimes has played at a high level, and he’ll look to prove his worth to the team that let him go. Teams haven’t been shy about testing him, as they’ve thrown 17 passes into his coverage, completing nine for 130 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. That all amounts to a 53.6 QB Rating when targeting Grimes. On the other side, quarterbacks have achieved a passer rating of only 34.1 when targeting Nolan Carroll. Often patrolling the deep middle, Chris Clemons has allowed only a single catch for 3 yards so far. Really, the only negative has been the play of Reshad Jones, who began to emerge as a star last season. Through two games, Jones has graded poorly in coverage after earning the third-highest coverage grade among all safeties in 2012.
Although the Dolphins’ corners have held up quite nicely, they haven’t faced the likes of the Falcons receivers. Roddy White hasn’t been able to produce much while dealing with his high ankle sprain, but with more rest during this week he could be a lot closer to full strength. With White relegated to more of a decoy role, Julio Jones has shown off his explosiveness and ability to take over games. Jones has caught 18 of 21 targets for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He also has forced four missed tackles and has 155 yards after catch. He’ll take his talents to South Beach and provide the Dolphins’ secondary with their biggest challenge to date this season. Of course, Atlanta still has Tony Gonzalez to work the middle of the field and Matt Ryan to orchestrate the attack and deliver passes with pinpoint accuracy. Through two weeks, Ryan ranks second in Accuracy Percentage at 80.0%, and his receivers have been incredibly reliable by catching all but two of the 60 passes thrown on target.
Cameron Wake vs. Lamar Holmes
Unable to get going last week, Cameron Wake will square off against Lamar Holmes on Sunday with the intent to take down Matt Ryan as much as possible. The Falcons have struggled in pass protection on the edges this year, and Wake is capable of dominating his side when he’s at his best. At the moment, Wake’s 13.9 Pass Rushing Productivity puts him sixth in the league among 4-3 defensive ends. With Atlanta likely to throw the ball often, keeping him away from Ryan will be a difficult task. The man assigned with that duty is Lamar Holmes, who struggled mightily against Cameron Jordan in Week 1, but held Chris Long in check Week 2. Holmes ranks 60th out of 63 qualifying tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 89.4.
UPDATE: With left tackle Sam Baker declared out for the game, Holmes will likely move to the left side with Jeremy Trueblood expected to step into Holmes’ spot at right tackle. Trueblood has only played three snaps this season (-0.5) after playing only 82 last year (-0.8) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His last extensive work came in 2011 as he graded at -20.9 overall including -11.7 in pass protection. This continues to look like a favorable matchup for Wake.
Falcons Pass Rush vs. Dolphins Offensive Line
So far, there really hasn’t been much of a pass rush to speak of for the Falcons. This is a team that can jump out to early leads and put opponents in obvious passing situations, but they haven’t been able to apply much pressure. Atlanta rotates their defensive linemen often, but can’t seem to find anyone who can make an impact consistently. Osi Umenyiora has created some pressure (two hits, eight hurries), but not enough to fill the void left by John Abraham. Jonathan Babineaux has rushed the passer 84 times, more than any other Falcon, but has converted those opportunities into just three hurries. With the Falcons even more thin up front after losing Kroy Biermann, somebody needs to step up and generate a legitimate pass rush.
The Dolphins have already been sacked 10 times this season, although only seven of them were attributed to offensive linemen. Tyson Clabo was victimized on three of those sacks, and his -2.2 pass block grade also wasn’t helped by the six hurries he’s given up. Like Grimes, Clabo is another Falcons’ castoff who gets to face off with his former team. On the other end of the spectrum, Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey have both done a fantastic job of protecting the quarterback. Each has allowed one sack, but no other pressure at all. After a mostly encouraging preseason, left tackle Jonathan Martin has held his own in pass protection through two games. He’ll go up against Umenyiora for most of the game in a matchup that could easily tilt either direction.
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