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Well-rested Falcons await inconsistent Dolphins
The Atlanta Falcons have had extra time via their bye week to think about their most recent game, a 23-17 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan labored through a three-turnover game, including two interceptions, and Atlanta (3-1) lost star wide receiver Julio Jones to a hip injury.
The Miami Dolphins (2-2), who visit the Falcons on Sunday, are coming off an ugly 16-10 win over a Tennessee Titans team that was playing without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Miami has scored just one meaningful touchdown on offense in its past 13 quarters.
So, going forward, will the Falcons look more like the team that got beat by Buffalo or the squad that raced to a 3-0 start with a win over the Green Bay Packers?
And how long will it take the Dolphins to fix an offense that is, for the moment at least, broken?
In Miami, fans repeatedly chanted for backup quarterback Matt Moore to replace starter Jay Cutler, but Dolphins coach Adam Gase wasn't swayed.
"I will make the decision on the quarterback," Gase said. "We're not going to take a public poll."
Gase had to deal with yet another problem on Monday. His offensive line coach, Chris Foerster, a 55-year-old married father of three, resigned after a video surfaced on social media showing him snorting an unknown white power substance off a table while at work.
"He's disappointed, mad at himself," Gase said of Foerster. "It's unfortunate."
In Atlanta, the reigning NFC champions are just hoping to get healthy.
Jones, who has made the Pro Bowl three years in a row, has practiced this week and is likely to return on Sunday. The same is true for starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder and starting free safety Ricardo Allen, both of whom were removed from concussion protocol.
The Falcons are also anticipating the return of Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks last year. This year, he has two sacks in two games, so he has the potential to further wreck that shaky Dolphins offense.
Three more Falcons starters are questionable for Sunday: defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw (ankle), strong safety Keanu Neal (hand) and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (hamstring).
"We're a lot better off injury-wise," Falcons coach Dan Quinn told media members in Atlanta. "We had a lot of guys back (at practice). Man, that was good to see.
"The bye hit us at the right time in terms of injuries, and you could see how hard our guys worked."
Miami is relatively healthy, but an ankle injury suffered by starting wide receiver DeVante Parker during the Titans' game is a concern. Parker, listed as questionable, is a deep threat in an offense that has had very few big plays so far this season.
The bright spot for the Dolphins has been their defense. Ndamukong Suh is perhaps the best defensive tackle in football. Cameron Wake is a feared pass rusher. William Hayes and Andre Branch are run-stuffing defensive ends. And rookie first-round end Charles Harris is coming off his first career sack last week against the Titans. Harris actually got more snaps than Wake last week, 36-35.
At linebacker, the Dolphins last week played with three established veterans for the first time all season: Kiko Alonso, Rey Maualuga and Lawrence Timmons.
"You don't see many missed tackles with those guys," Gase said. "Once they make contact, that's it."
In the secondary, safety Reshad Jones has been a force, recovering two fumbles, getting one sack and scoring one touchdown and doing all of that just last week. The secondary has performed better since benching veteran Byron Maxwell in favor of rookie third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley.
Ryan is the third elite-level quarterback the Dolphins will have faced this year, joining Philip Rivers of the Chargers and Drew Brees of the Saints.
Ryan is off to a slow start by his standards. Still, his 3-1 win-loss record is solid as the Falcons attempt to become the first team since the 1993 Buffalo Bills to lose the Super Bowl one year and return to the big game the following season.
Running back Devonta Freeman, who played for Miami Central High, could be a key for the Falcons in this game. He has rushed for 248 yards in the past three games and will surely want to impress his hometown team.
Freeman is looking for his third straight NFL 1,000-yard rushing season and he has scored 29 touchdowns since the start of the 2015 season. He and Tevin Coleman make a stellar 1-2 backfield punch, and both players are adept as receivers as well.
"I'm happy with our effort," Quinn told the media this week, summing up his team in all three phases. "Now let's match execution to our effort."
Updated October 11, 2017