Dolphins vs. Falcons: Five things to watch

DAVIE – The Miami Dolphins are 2-2 heading into their Week 5 contest against the Atlanta Falcons, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. In the Dolphins’ two victories on the season, the defense has had to bail out a woeful offense that has produced just 10 points per game.

The Dolphins are currently last in the NFL in points per game, passing yards per game and second to last in rushing yards per game. While their offense is much maligned (and rightfully so), their run defense is fourth in the league and their defense has yielded just 16.8 points a game, which is also good for 4th in the NFL.

If the Dolphins hope to steal a game from the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the offense will need to show up, or it could be a long day for their defense.

Here are five things to watch when the Dolphins take on last year’s NFC champions:

Misdirection is key

There is no mystery to the Falcons’ defense. They line up each play and try to beat the man across from them with their tenacity and athleticism. The Falcons’ defense overwhelms the opposition with their speed on a weekly basis and they will attempt to do the same against the Dolphins. While they are a disciplined bunch, their speed can be used against them on occasion with misdirection. Outside zone calls to Jay Ajayi with Jakeem Grant in “orbit motion” could go a long way toward mitigating the Falcons’ speed.

Jay Cutler’s footwork

Since entering the league in 2006, Cutler’s arm strength has been on of his greatest attributes. Due exceptional arm talent, Cutler has been able to get away with throwing accurately down the field absent proper mechanics. Cutler is no longer a spry 25-year old quarterback and it is becoming increasingly more evident that he must be mechanically sound in order to throw with greater velocity on vertical routes. If the Dolphins’ O-line gives him time in the pocket, Cutler should be markedly better when throwing vertically down the field.

Ace in the run game

Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen spoke about leaning on Mike Pouncey and Jermon Bushrod to lead the offensive line earlier in the week but the tight end position might be just as important. The Dolphins last place rushing attack is having difficulty generating a push at the line of scrimmage and leaning on offensive linemen might not be enough to turn the tide. Adam Gase will need to run more Ace (two-tight end sets) if he hopes to move the ball consistently on the ground against the Falcons.

Pressure on Matt Ryan

The Dolphins amassed six sacks on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and they could have another stellar performance against the Falcons. Is capable of getting the football out of his hands quickly but he will be forced the check down frequently with Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Andre Branch bearing down on him. Despite the big-play threat of Julio Jones, the Dolphins cornerbacks should be able to press him and their other wide receivers in order to throw off Ryan’s timing

Bobby McCain must play fast

Bobby McCain plays with the toughness and physicality that every coach wants out of their nickel cornerback. McCain also possesses the requisite quickness to get in and out of breaks, but his quickness and lateral agility isn’t all that will be put to the test on Sunday. The Falcons could very well challenge McCain’s long speed if he’s asked to cover Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel who has run as fast as 4.27 in the 40-yard dash. If he is inclined to believe the Falcons are attempting to threaten vertically with Gabriel, McCain will need to do an exceptional job of anticipating routes to combat his speed.

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Brandon Howard joined the Sports Talk Florida team to cover the Miami Dolphins in April 2017 and will work diligently to provide daily Dolphins content and give accurate analysis of the roster, coaching and front office. Last season, Howard was the curator of content for Miami Dolphins Wire/ USA Today while aggregating high school sports results in Broward and Palm Beach counties for the Sun Sentinel. Prior to moving to South Florida Howard developed NFL content for Pro Player Insiders while covering the Cleveland Browns from 2014-2015. Howard, a Columbus, Ohio native graduated from West Virginia in 2004 in Athletic Coaching and Education. He also was a scholarship track and field athlete and walk-on football player. Howard was the 2003 Big East Long and IC4A long jump Champion and was a provisional national qualifier in the event. He also maintained his status as a member of the Athletic Director Academic Honor Roll during his time as a Mountaineer.