Dolphins vs. Falcons Preview

When: Tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST
Where: Sun Life Stadium-Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: Local only, NFL Network replay airing at 2:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning
Weather: High: 90 degrees, Low: 80 degrees, 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms

Tonight’s “dress rehearsal” will give us our best look at the 2010 Miami Dolphins yet, as the starters should get around three whole quarters of action.Getting such an extensive look against a playoff caliber team like Atlanta should tell us a lot about where this football team stands. And while we will likely have to put some of those roster fringe battles on hold until next Thursday in Dallas, the remaining competitions with starting jobs on the line will likely be decided tonight. So let’s get to the three questions and three players to watch.

Three Questions

1. Will offense build off positive momentum?
Last week we saw Chad Henne have his way with a below average Jacksonville secondary, and the Dolphins’ offense as whole put up 24 points in the first-half. Will they continue to move the ball efficiently against another average defense tonight? The Falcons pass defense finished a miserable 28th in the league a year ago, and while they may have improved in the offseason, if last week was indicative of how improved Chad Henne is, we should expect similar success tonight.

Also, the dropped passes need to stop. Thankfully, Henne was good enough last week to not be significantly affected by two more drops, but Marshall and Hartline need to get their act together. Not that I’m down on Marshall after last week’s solid performance, but someone who has said he wants to be considered the best receiver in football can’t drop the passes he’s dropped this preseason.

The running game on the other hand, will be tested tonight, if they decide to pound the rock that is. The Falcons possess one of the better front seven’s in football, and if Ronnie and Ricky are featured heavily in the game plan tonight, we will get a glimpse of how affected the ground game has been by all the shuffling along the interior offensive line.

2. Will secondary bounce back against Matt Ryan and company?
Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez aren’t exactly who want to see when you are trying to bounce back after a dismal outing a week ago. David Garrard and Luke McCown threw all over Miami last Saturday night, and probably revealed that the secondary remains the Dolphins’ biggest weakness.

We know Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have potential, we’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s time we see them live up to it. And yes, I know it’s only the preseason and it’s only their second season, but hey, if the Dolphins want to win now that’s probably what it’s going to take.

Chris Clemons should also be tested tonight, especially when matched up with Tony Gonzalez. It’s been almost a year since Gonzalez completely exposed Gibril Wilson in coverage in Week 1 last season. Will Clemons prove to be an upgrade, or is time the coaches start considering Reshad Jones for the job?

3. Will special-teams improve?
Outside of Nolan Carroll looking solid returning kicks, the Dolphins’ special-teams were a joke against the Jaguars. They conceded yet another blocked punt, this time giving up a safety, and were pathetic covering kicks, allowing Jacksonville to return four kickoffs past their own 40-yard line, even though the Dolphins were bailed out by a fumble and a penalty on two of those returns.

Considering that a good portion of those players on special-teams are sitting on the roster fence, you would think there would be a sense of urgency to make plays. If not, we could see some guys who have impressed on offense or defense, shatter their roster chances by underwhelming on special-teams.

Three players to watch

Benny Sapp: Having just be traded for on Wednesday, we may not see much of Sapp at all tonight. The Dolphins have been playing a lot of vanilla defense in the first couple preseason games, though, so we could see him thrown right into the nickel package. If so, it will be interesting to see how well off the secondary would be, in the event Will Allen isn’t ready to go at the beginning of the season.

Marlon Moore: With Greg Camarillo now out of the picture, the door is wide open for Marlon Moore to steal the final job opening at receiver. He’s been pretty consistent in the first two exhibitions, but can’t afford to miss a beat if he wants to seal the deal in the final two contest. We may not see much of him tonight, though, if the starters are indeed going to play 75% of the game. That means he’s going to have to make the most of his limited opportunities, that will likely come in the fourth quarter with Tyler Thigpen at the helm.

Nolan Carroll: After looking comfortable and confident returning kicks over the past two weeks, consistency will be crucial if Carroll is going to clinch the job. Remember Chris Williams shinning in one game, and totally dropping the ball in the next, last preseason. Also, I’m interested to see if Carroll still runs with the first-team at nickel corner, or concedes those reps to Benny Sapp. Regardless, Carroll is going to get some action tonight, and needs to bonce back after a poor showing last week.

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