The Atlanta Falcons vs. Miami Dolphins matchup will see two teams face off after playing their previous games in London (with markedly different results). Will the Falcons’ bye week after their Week 5 matchup give them the edge compared to the Dolphins coming straight over from a crushing late loss in London?
Atlanta Falcons offense vs. Miami Dolphins defense
After clicking on offense in Weeks 4 and 5, can the Falcons carry that momentum into their Week 7 matchup with the Dolphins?
Matt Ryan vs. Dolphins defense
It took four weeks in Arthur Smith’s system, but Matt Ryan finally appears to have found some comfort leading this Falcons offense. Ryan had been completing the ball at a reasonable rate through the first three weeks (70.1%), and the numbers had looked better in terms of yards per pass attempt in Weeks 2 and 3. However, when you break down his season using Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric, it is in the last two games that real change has occurred.
OVM grades players based on their performance on elements within their control and the environment they’re in. Ryan had languished near the bottom of the position in the first three weeks, but he’s been one of the most valuable QBs within his environment the past two games.
It makes a lot of sense that Ryan would need some time to make the adjustment to Smith’s system. Ryan has played in different systems throughout his career and has seemingly always needed time to settle into them. The Falcons will be hoping the promising signs can continue this week against Miami’s defense.
The challenge this Miami defense will provide very much depends on who is on the field. With Xavien Howard and Byron Jones out last week, Trevor Lawrence moved the ball with ease at times. Both Howard and Jones have practiced this week, but there’s no guarantee that they will be able to suit up Sunday or how long they will play if they do.
Howard and Jones have performed better than the other Miami corners
The difference between having Howard and Jones available or not is stark. Through five games, Howard has allowed just a 55.9% completion rate on 34 targets. Meanwhile, Jones has allowed a 63.3% completion rate on 30 targets this season. Among all Miami’s defensive backs, they are the best numbers.
However, the return of Howard and Jones does have some upside for Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. Howard has allowed 4 touchdowns when being targeted this season, with Jones allowing 2. Howard’s aggressive ball-hawking style makes him susceptible to giving up touchdowns.
Falcons skill players vs. Dolphins secondary
As we discussed above, the performance of the Dolphins’ secondary could very much depend on who is playing at cornerback. We saw Lawrence repeatedly target Noah Igbinoghene last week with both Jones and Howard out. If he has to play a large number of snaps again this week, we could see Ryan look in that direction a lot.
This week, the Falcons received some positive news, with Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley both returning to practice. Ridley missed the trip to London with a personal matter, so his return was expected. However, Gage has missed the past three games, leaving the Falcons to turn to Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe in his place.
Now, the Falcons have the potential of a receiving group that consists of Ridley, Gage, and the impressive Cordarrelle Patterson. Combine that with Kyle Pitts, who had his breakout game and scored his first touchdown in Week 5 against the Jets, and Atlanta’s offense has a formidable look about it.
Falcons offensive line vs. Dolphins defensive line
This matchup could be where the game is won and lost. If Ryan has the time to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes to his playmakers, the Dolphins will be in for a long day.
According to Football Outsiders’ offensive line metrics, the Falcons’ offensive line ranks just outside the top 10 in terms of adjusted sack rate. Ryan has been sacked just 8 times this season, which is among the lowest in the league. Considering the concerns surrounding this offensive line entering the season, that is a good return through five games.
According to Football Outsiders, when we look at the run game, the Falcons’ OL ranks pretty much in the middle of the pack. However, that has not translated to success on the field. The Falcons have one of the least efficient running games, with Mike Davis struggling to make the most of his opportunities.
Is Miami’s front seven making strides?
Miami’s defensive line did a lot of good things in their last matchup. Granted, that was against a Jacksonville line missing some key players, but there were promising signs. They did not get the number of sacks their pressure deserved, however, as Lawrence used his legs to extend plays and get the ball away.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins have not had much consistency rushing the passer this year. Their pressure rate (22.3%) is in the bottom 10 of the NFL, and their sack rate (4.5%) is in the bottom five. The one element where they’ve succeeded is QB knockdowns, with the best rate in the league (15.5%). They are getting to the QB, but just not quickly enough to get the sack.
The Dolphins’ success last week was essentially a product of missing players on the Jaguars’ offensive line. It is unlikely they will have the same success against a Falcons line that has been a pleasant surprise most of the season.
Miami Dolphins offense vs. Atlanta Falcons defense
Tua Tagovailoa vs. Falcons defense
Watching Tua last week left many pulling their hair out. On the two touchdown drives, he looked calm and composed. He made the right decisions and big plays when his offense needed them.
Unfortunately, for all the good, there was also plenty of bad from the Miami QB. Tua threw an inexplicable interception right off the back of his defense forcing a turnover. He also made some decisions that had Miami fans groaning around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
His final numbers looked solid, with 329 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception with a 70.2% completion rate from 47 pass attempts. However, it was the moments within the game where things went wrong that were somewhat alarming.
In Atlanta’s defense, Tua finds an equally confounding defense. The Falcons rank second-worst in terms of points allowed to opponents. Yet, they are a top-15 team when it comes to restricting opponents’ offenses from picking up yards.
The problem is that they struggle to get off the field, allowing a sixth-worst 44.8% third-down conversion rate. Third downs were something the Dolphins did reasonably well for the most part against the Jaguars last week. However, it has been an area they have been mediocre for most of the season (39% conversion rate).
Whether it is Tua or the Falcons’ defense that has the advantage here is very much dependent on which Tua we see. If we see the one that led those two touchdown drives, he has the advantage. On the contrary, the other version of Tua would hand a significant advantage to the Falcons’ defense.
Dolphins skill players vs. Falcons secondary
The Dolphins’ skill-position situation is an interesting one heading into Week 7. With Will Fuller on IR, one of their dynamic playmakers is out of action. Still, there’s plenty of skill available with Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki on the offense.
What could really make or break this offense is the presence of either Preston Williams or DeVante Parker on the field. Having one or both of them available gives the Dolphins’ passing attack a sense of balance. Waddle and Gesicki provide the underneath options, while Parker and Williams provide that deep, jump-ball type of threat for Tua. Without either of them in Week 6, the Dolphins’ passing attack lacked an extra dimension.
Considering the Falcons’ secondary was a point of concern entering the season, they have done a satisfactory job. Ranking 19th in net yards per passing attempt at 6.8 yards is likely better than what many expected coming into the season.
There are certainly still areas for improvement, with the group allowing an eighth-highest 68.4% completion rate against. Their biggest issue has been a lack of turnovers. Only the New York Jets have fewer interceptions than the Falcons in 2021 (1).
Individually, Falcons corners A.J. Terrell and Isaiah Oliver have impressed. Terrell has allowed only 8 completions on 20 targets, while Oliver has allowed 8 completions on 15. Both players are practicing this week and should be available for this matchup. If Parker and/or Williams are available, this matchup is a push.
Dolphins offensive line vs. Falcons defensive line
Miami’s offensive line has been a disaster this year. The whole unit appears to be struggling to find consistency. Against the Jaguars, Tua was consistently under pressure and having to make plays from crowded pockets or on the move.
The lack of consistency has seen the Dolphins shuffling their line looking for the right combinations. Entering Week 7, Football Outsiders grade the Dolphins’ offense as one of the worst units in run blocking and slightly below average in terms of adjusted sack rate.
Those struggles blocking in the run game have seen all three of Miami’s backs in Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Malcolm Brown struggle at times. Only Gaskin averages more than 4 yards per carry this season, but his biggest contribution arguably came in the passing game in Week 5.
In Week 7, they go up against a below-average Falcons defensive line. While the Falcons’ DL has been fine against the run, they’ve struggled to rush the QB. Their 21.1% pressure rate is the fourth-lowest in the league, while their 5.0% sack rate is the 10th-lowest.
Atlanta’s defensive line has the advantage in the run game, but it’s a much closer matchup in terms of pass blocking. Whichever of these units can have the most success could be the deciding factor in this game.
Betting line and game prediction
Somewhat surprisingly, these are two evenly matched teams, with the Falcons having a marginal advantage on paper. The Dolphins traveling back from London while the Falcons have been on a bye somewhat helps explain why the Falcons are 2.5-point favorites on the road.
Third-down and red-zone conversion rates could be the telling factor here. The Falcons’ offense is in the top 10 of both categories, while the Dolphins’ defense is 31st in third-down conversions and 16th when it comes to the red zone. In contrast, the Dolphins are 17th and 23rd on offense, respectively, in those two categories.
Unless Miami’s defense can stop the Falcons from converting on third down, this could become a one-sided affair.
Falcons vs. Dolphins Prediction: Falcons 27, Dolphins 21