In the third and perhaps the most crucial preseason game the Miami Dolphins will host the Atlanta Falcons at Sun Life Stadium. Both teams enter Friday's contest with identical 0-2 records however their weaknesses thus far are complete opposites. The Falcons first team looks to be in peak mid-season form and are establishing a reputation that their starters are amongst the best in the league. Unfortunately for Atlanta their backups have struggled mightily and have allowed opponents to mount a comeback in the second half.
On the other end of the field it's the Dolphins starters who have been mediocre to say the least while their second, third and fourth team units have kept games relatively close. As the Miami offence stuggled to put up points, the defence was on their heels seemingly unable to force a punt or turnover.
Last Friday against the Carolina Panthers, Ryan Tannehill started for the first time in his young NFL career finishing 11 of 23 for 100 yards including an impressive 67 yard drive capped by a Daniel Thomas touchdown run. Although these aren't exactly stellar numbers from the rookie quarterback, it was more than enough to win the starting job from incumbent Matt Moore. It's worth monitoring how Tannehill performs in two days time seeing as it will likely be his last game action before taking on the Houston Texans in week 1 of the regular season.
One of the main issues for the Dolphins in the matchup against Carolina was the play of the offensive line, specifically the right side where rookie Jonathan Martin was getting beat for most of the night. Once Jake Long and second year centre Mike Pouncey exited the game, the offensive line gave Tannehill very little time to operate resulting in three quarterback sacks. Martin still has a lot of work to do if he plans to be a starter this season however he has showed signs of improvement this week in practice.
Another concern for Miami is the wide reciever core which lacks a bonafide No. 1 option. Sitting a top the depth chart, Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess will get the start and are in tough against a talented Falcons secondary. In the first two games Naanee has been virtually invisible but has earned a spot on the first team thanks to strong showings in practice. Naanee will be one to watch as his performance under the lights will be key for the coaching staff in determining his role on the opening day roster.
Switching focus to the defense, it was surprising how little pressure the Dolphins pass rushers generated on the Panthers. Cam Newton completed over 70% of his passes and averaged over 10 yards per attempt. The lack of pressure isn't a concern yet, Miami did play without the likes of Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby. Expect the pass rush to improve significantly with Wake and Burnett making a return to the lineup while Dansby remains doubtful.
This is by far Miami's toughest test of the preseason as the Dolphins starters will be challenged on both sides of the ball. Although preseason games have absolutely no impact on the regular season a win at home against the Falcons would instill confidence into the players going forward and provide the fan base with glimmer of hope. In order for Joe Philbin to win his first game as an NFL head coach, the starters will need to perform to their abilty.