The 2009 season opener kicked off with a showdown in Pittsburgh and as a stamp placed on what could be for this season overall, the Tennessee Titans and Steelers needed an extra quarter to decide the game.
Perhaps a prelude to an eventful season of twists and turns or maybe nothing more than a simple game between two head banging NFL teams who have set their eyes on the prize for seasons end. The Steelers kicked their way to a final 13-10 victory.
For the Miami Dolphins, the opening kick-off to their 2009 season will be seconds after 1:00 pm Eastern time on Sunday. The hosting Atlanta Falcons will cast their chips in for a fight to the end and both teams know that a quick start out of the gates will go a long way to making each subsequent week that much more important.
With only a few days to go, both teams are entering final preparations that mostly include walk-throughs and film breakdown along with a bunch of positional meetings. Who will enter week 2 with the “0” at the end of their record? Let’s take a look and see what we can expect on both sides of the ball.
When the Dolphins are on Defense:
It’s hard to rattle the cage of the now sophomore QB Matt Ryan, but that is exactly what the Phins will do. Try and make him throw the ball earlier than he wants to. The Phins will likely employ a heavy dose of blitzing designed to force early releases by the young QB while the LB core in the interior will try and keep the running game in check.
The Phins should have an easier time stopping the deep ball than stopping the dink passes to Michael Turner. Turner had well over 300 touches last year and this year is expected to be more of the same. For the Phins to find success they will have to stop his legs on the ground, and his flat pass catching skills that are usually good for big gains. Turner could end up being a favorite target for Matt Ryan early.
If Turner out of the back-field is going to be troublesome then the news isn’t much better for the coverage LB’s who will have to account for the Falcons newest weapon, the still resilient Tony Gonzalez at TE. Gonzalez will try and usually will succeed in finding the mismatches in coverage and the openings to exploit pass rushing defenses. All the more reason for the Phins to apply constant pressure.
While the Falcons lack a true hot rod WR like the Dolphins will face many times this season, Roddy White is beginning to come into his own and he is poised for a breakout year. Still, the Phins should be able to keep the Falcons WR’s at bay so long as rookie CB Sean Smith continues to improve. His one handed INT was phenomenal but all that is now is a highlight reel that will only be replayed if he busts out of the NFL instead of busts out as a pro-bowler.
When the Dolphins have the ball:
There will be nothing pretty early on for the Dolphins offense unless this entire pre-season has been nothing but a ruse. Chad Pennington despite his downfield throwing will likely return to his normal careful self who makes smart decisions instead of dumb ones.
Pennington will rely on the hands and routes of Greg Camarillo and the RB out of the back-field. He will throw the rock downfield once or twice to keep the safeties from cheating but those throws are going to have to be to the outside and out of the way of the Falcons steady CB’s.
The real test will be from the Dolphins struggling offensive line who have failed to impress this pre-season. Jake Long has been an uncharacteristic struggling LT this off-season and he will face a tough pass rushing defense. For the rest of the Oline, they will need to give Pennington time enough to check down and open up at least some kind of running lanes for the backs to get through.
The key to success is short manageable 3rddowns, something the Phins have not had easy success with. Avoid the sacks and runs for losses and the Phins could move down the field, but they will have to do so methodically and patiently.
The WR’s are in a bit of a flux with still no true number 1 WR. The Phins have to solid possession receivers in Camarillo and Davone Bess but neither provide that double covered threat that a number 1 should and the Dolphins number 1, the speedy Ted Ginn doesn’t usually garner roll up coverage from the safeties.
Whether the Dolphins roll out the Wild Cat in week 1 will not be known until the teams finish up their weekends game, but the running of Ronnie Brown and company will go a long to provide a ball control offense that would keep Matt Ryan on the bench and off the field.
I normally don’t pick Miami out of the gate with the way the team has played the last several years but this team is a bit different. They seem to be hungry and well led. I think the Phins will come away with a 17 – 13 or a 20 –13 victory but the game will be a lot closer than the score will indicate.
For the Phins it’s ball control and pass rushing. If they can do that successfully they will keep Matt Ryan and his arsenal off the field.