COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Falcons have started the 2013 season 1-1, but seeing as how both games have been decided by no more than a single touchdown, fans know the difference between 2-0, and even 0-2, is little more than one defensive stop away.
The Falcons will travel to South Beach to take on the surprisingly 2-0 Miami Dolphins on Sunday. In order for Atlanta to reclaim their throne as the team to beat in the NFC South, they must focus on a few important keys for ensuring victory in Week 3.
A Defensive Back Cannot Be the Leading Tackler
Robert McClain has 17 solo tackles for the Falcons -- a total that ranks him No. 2 in the entire NFL. There is just one problem: McClain plays in the Atlanta secondary.
If a team's corner is racking up all of these tackles, it generally means the opposing offense is completing a lot of passes to their wide receivers and the Atlanta DBs are then forced to make the tackle.
Hats off to McClain for making those stops and not letting the opposing wide outs run free, but on a team that ranks No. 29 in passing defense so far in 2013, McClain and the rest of the Falcons' defensive backfield need to do a better job of stopping these completions from being made in the first place.
Jacquizz Rodgers Must Be a Factor
Without Steven Jackson, the fate of the rushing attack falls to Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. The Dolphins allowed the Cleveland Browns' Trent Richardson just 47 yards rushing in their Week 1 matchup, and Rodgers and Snelling are not Richardson.
The backup duo totaled just 36 yards on the ground after Jackson left with a thigh bruise last week. In order for Atlanta to avoid having Cameron Wake and Derrick Shelby licking their lips as they picture the cartoon image of a Thanksgiving turkey every time Matt Ryan drops back to pass, Rodgers must become a change-of-pace difference maker.
This does not mean he has to run between the tackles 20 times, carrying 300-pound defensive lineman on his back like a mini 5-6 bulldozer plowing forward for tough first downs. Rodgers isn't Jackson, and no one is asking him to be No. 39.
What Rodgers is, is an elusive speedster who can be very dangerous in the screen game and as a check-down receiver. Short passes, which essentially become long handoffs, can be enough to stem the tide of not having a formidable rushing attack. Ryan was hit eight times last week. That cannot continue to happen if the Falcons want to be a serious contender.
Don't Turn Injuries into Scapegoats
The Falcons cannot worry about who is or is not playing. Their Week 2 win proved very costly as five starters went down with injuries.
Defensive end Kroy Biermann, fullback Bradie Ewing and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have all been placed on injured reserve. Asante Samuel tweaked his quad and is questionable for Week 3, and running back Steven Jackson will not play this week, and could be out for as long as a month, depending on the reports.
With so much talent on the sidelines, it would be easy for the Falcons to point at the holes in their roster as the cause for any reduction in performance.
Atlanta must implore a next-man-up mentality. They are not going to be able to replace Pro Bowl players as if nothing happened, but taking accountability for the things they can control, such as limiting mental mistakes, can make up for a loss of talent.
Ryan Tannehill Must Look like Ryan Tannehill, not Dan Marino
The Dolphins improved player personnel on their 7-9 team from a year ago, but the unproven Tannehill is still the starting quarterback. Last season, Tannehill threw 13 picks against only 12 touchdowns while being sacked 35 times.
Through two games in 2013, the sophomore QB has looked like a completely different player, completing over 65 percent of his passes and leading Miami to a 2-0 start to the season. He may have Mike Wallace catching passes and Lamar Miller rushing for first downs, but Tannehill is still a turnover waiting to happen if the Falcons force him to be.
The New 'Greatest Show on Turf'
Forget the 1999 St. Louis Rams, Matt Ryan is putting up 339 yards per game passing, and has the No. 5 ranked passer rating in all of football (107.9). Despite the defense's limitations, the passing game is stocked with special players at nearly every position. The best way to help the defense is to put together long drives that result in scores and make this game a shootout.
Julio Jones is No. 2 in the NFL in receiving, and Harry Douglas has been a welcomed surprise filling in for the injured Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez only has seven catches for 69 yards so far, but expect his targets to rise as opposing D-lines focus more on rushing the passer, causing Ryan to find his security blanket over the middle.
Tannehill has proven he can squeak out a defensive battle, but does he have the goods to put up 35 points without making the costly mistake? Miami may not have the firepower to play fast-break football.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Falcons since they first started playing games inside the Georgia Dome. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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