Falcons vs. Dolphins: Takeaways from Atlanta's 27-23 Loss to Miami

Aaron Freeman@falcfansContributor ISeptember 23, 2013

Falcons vs. Dolphins: Takeaways from Atlanta's 27-23 Loss to Miami

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    The Atlanta Falcons' record moves to a disappointing 1-2 after a tough loss to the gritty Miami Dolphins on the road. Atlanta had opportunities to pull away from the Dolphins but did not take advantage in the end.

    The Falcons will be forced to regroup next Sunday night underneath the lights of the Georgia Dome as they take on the New England Patriots to try and get their 2013 season back on track.

    Many of the same issues that have plagued the Falcons throughout the 2013 season continued to rear their ugly heads in this loss. But the Falcons also showed progress in several areas, which they can continue to build off as the year continues.

Falcons Continue to Struggle to Put Away Teams

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    The biggest takeaway from this game is going to be the fact that Atlanta didn't take advantage of its numerous opportunities in the second half to pull away from Miami.

    The Dolphins certainly deserve credit for showing some grit and determination to stay in the game, but being a team that expects to compete at the highest level, the Falcons aren't going to accept that excuse.

    After a William Moore interception at the end of the third quarter, the Falcons offense went three-and-out with an opportunity to push their lead to two scores. The defense made their stand immediately following that offensive series, but Harry Douglas fumbled a punt return at Atlanta's own 19-yard line. That led to a quick Dolphins touchdown that tied the game.

    The Falcons would make two trips into the red zone with their next two offensive series in the fourth quarter but did not score touchdowns on either of them. After Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal, the Falcons wound up with only three points combined on those two drives.

    The season is still young, but this team can't continue to miss these opportunities if they intend to go far. They simply aren't finishing games, and that needs to stop sooner rather than later.

Julio Jones Excels as Offensive Centerpiece

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    It's been a running theme all year long, but I continue to be very impressed with the play of wide receiver Julio Jones. After matching a career-high a week ago against St. Louis with 11 catches for 182 yards, he did his best to match it this week with nine catches for 115 yards.

    Jones continues to be the focus of opposing defenses, but his unique skill set continues to confound those defenses due to the matchup problems he creates with NFL cornerbacks. Jones didn't get much help from either Harry Douglas or Roddy White, who only caught three of the combined 10 targets that went their way today. Jones was continually dialed up by Matt Ryan late in the game and came up with a pair of huge catches on a fourth-quarter drive. Unfortunately the Falcons could not find him in the end zone to cap off that drive.

    When the Falcons can get more contributions from their other receivers, Jones could become even more potent. But thus far he has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Falcons offense.

Jason Snelling Continues to Shine

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    Falcons running back Jason Snelling continues to perform at a high level and appears to have a knack for making plays. Building off a solid performance a week ago against the St. Louis Rams, Snelling had an even better performance against Miami.

    An increase from his two carries a week ago, Snelling toted the rock 11 times for 53 yards today. He was also second on the team with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Snelling's abilities to generate yards after the catch and after contact came in handy for the Falcons today. He came up with big runs and catches on several of the Falcons' scoring drives.

    Good things just seem to happen when the Falcons get the ball into Snelling's hands, and as long as Steven Jackson is limited, the Falcons can trust they still have a playmaker at the running back position.

Wait, Atlanta Can Run the Ball?

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    One of the biggest elements missing from the Falcons offense over the first two weeks, and frankly from the past two seasons, has been their running game.

    They finally got things on track against the Dolphins. The Falcons were playing with a different offensive line as Lamar Holmes flipped from right to left tackle to replace an injured Sam Baker, while Jeremy Trueblood assumed the right tackle position. It seemingly paid off as the Falcons were able to win in the trenches with 146 yards on 30 carries.

    While Jacquizz Rodgers' first half stat line doesn't pop with 10 carries for 49 yards, the fact that he was successful on all but one of those runs is more important. If you're not familiar with running back success rate, this article is a good primer. Successful runs help set up favorable passing situations and help move the chains which allowed the Falcons to score early.

    In the second half the Falcons still managed to be effective moving the ball on the ground, although Rodgers' success rate dropped to 50 percent (four of eight). Unfortunately the rest of the Falcons offense couldn't take advantage of that rushing success.  

Ball Control Benefits the Falcons

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    One of the reasons why the Falcons could not capitalize on their rushing success in the second half was due to them losing the time of possession.

    In the first half, Atlanta dominated the time of possession with nearly 23 minutes of controlling the ball versus Miami's seven minutes. With three long offensive series in the opening half, the Falcons scored on each one.

    But in the second half, it was much more of an even split with Miami holding the ball for 15 minutes, 39 seconds against Atlanta's 14:21. The Falcons only got points on two of their six second-half possessions, allowing Miami back into the game.

    The Falcons had 19 first-half rushing attempts against 11 in the second half. Typically you want that figure to be reversed, particularly with Atlanta playing with a halftime lead. The heat of South Florida may have played a factor in tiring out the Falcons defense at the end, and had they been able to control the clock with a more imposing second-half rushing attack, it could have made the difference.

Matt Bryant Has Some Explaining to Do

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    Falcons kicker Matt Bryant missed a critical 35-yard field goal late in the game that could have pushed the Falcons lead to six points with less than five minutes to go in the game.

    With the Dolphins ultimately responding with the game-winning touchdown, it's hard to conclude that it cost the Falcons the game, but it certainly was a big momentum swing in Miami's favor.

    It's also hard to be too upset with Bryant since he made three other field goals in the game when the Falcons offense couldn't generate touchdowns in the red zone. And on the spectrum of things to be upset about, getting stopped three out of five times in the red zone is much more concerning than one missed kick.

    But it was disappointing that after making a 52-yard field goal early in the game, Bryant would miss a much shorter kick that is usually a chip shot for the consistent veteran kicker. And with Bryant at an advanced age, he simply can't afford to have questions surrounding him about whether he's lost it.

The Pass Protection Could Be Improving

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    From the official stat sheet, the Dolphins only hit Matt Ryan five times and had no sacks. While that is by no means a great stat line, it does represent progress for a Falcons offensive line that has struggled this season.

    The Falcons were certainly aided by the absence of Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who was nursing a sore knee and exited the game early. But beggars can't be choosers, and at this point, the Falcons just need something to build their confidence off of for future games.

    The Falcons were sporting a new pair of starting tackles in Lamar Holmes and Jeremy Trueblood. It certainly seemed to make a difference with their rushing attack, but there was some progress in their pass protection. The Falcons are a long way away from having a good offensive line, but better is something they can work with.

The Pass Rush Stepped Up

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    The Falcons pass rush managed to get to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times, a marked improvement from previous weeks as the Falcons only combined for two sacks in their first two games.

    New Falcon defensive end Osi Umenyiora kicked things off with a pair of sack-strips in the first and third quarters. The latter of which led to a Peria Jerry recovery and seven points off a Matt Ryan touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo.

    Three of the Falcons' sacks came on blitzes, as the team had to dial up players like cornerback Robert McClain, and linebackers Akeem Dent and Joplo Bartu to get pressure that the front line wasn't getting. Unfortunately the Falcons couldn't get pressure when they needed it on the Dolphins' final drive.

    It doesn't mean that the Falcons pass rush won't continue to be under the crosshairs to perform, but it's an improvement and something worth building off next week as they'll need to get to Tom Brady much like they did Tannehill.

Special Teams Miscues Cost the Falcons

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    Atlanta is a team that prides itself off discipline and strong special teams play, but those things did not occur in today's game. Matt Bryant's missed field goal wasn't the only mistake the Falcons made on special teams today. 

    After a shanked third quarter punt by Matt Bosher, a holding call on long snapper Josh Harris led to Miami receiving favorable field position at midfield. Only thanks to a timely interception from safety William Moore did the Falcons prevent the Dolphins from capitalizing.

    That was followed by Harry Douglas' fumble on the ensuing Dolphins' series after another good defensive stand. That gift-wrapped seven points for the Falcons' opponent.

    After another defensive stop by the Falcons in the fourth quarter, a holding call on safety Thomas DeCoud on the punt return backed up the Falcons to their own 19-yard line instead of the 42 after a 13-yard return by Douglas.

    Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is one of the best in the business and will likely get these mistakes fixed next week. But it might simply be a week too late.

Poor Tackling Rears Its Ugly Head

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    While the Falcons defense can pat itself on the back for generating five sacks and two turnovers, it still needs to stiffen up in other areas.

    The Falcons didn't stop the Dolphins once in the red zone and allowed them convert seven of 12 third-down attempts. Part of those problems came from missed tackles from several Falcon defenders, particularly in the secondary. That will be something that the Falcons will need to clean up.

    Too many times over the years have the Falcons been plagued by missed tackles, and it certainly gave them problems once again today. The past two weeks, the Falcons have done more bending than breaking, but against Miami the tables were turned. And with the injuries and inconsistency the Falcons are trying to overcome on offense, that makes the difference in a win versus a loss.