From the Other Side, Part 1

To find out more about the Dolphins' opponent this week, the Atlanta Falcons, we checked in with lead NFL writer Brian McIntyre. In Part 1 of this three-part series, we take a look at the Falcons offense.

Q: Just how good is Matt Ryan, and did the Dolphins make a mistake in not drafting No. 1 overall instead of Jake Long last year?

Brian McIntyre: Matt Ryan is the real deal. Not only does he possess all the physical attributes teams look for in a starting quarterback (good size, strong arm, mobility), he has the decision-making skills, poise, maturity, and leadership you want in the face of your franchise. Ryan was remarkable last year, winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but he's just scratching the surface of what he's capable of.

Did the Dolphins err in not taking Ryan first overall? I wouldn't put it that way. Quarterback and left tackle are arguably the two most important positions on the field, and in Jake Long the Dolphins selected a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle who will cost them less money over the next few years. Ryan had a solid supporting cast already in place when Atlanta chose him, so it can't be assumed he would have posted similar numbers in his rookie season had Miami chosen him.

Q: How much of a concern is there in Atlanta that Michael Turner was used too much last year and therefore might slip in 2009?

BM: Football Outsiders' "Curse of 370" is very real, so there is a reason to be concerned about how Michael Turner will respond after a 376-carry season. A saving grace is that Turner only had 228 carries in his four seasons with the Chargers before signing in Atlanta, but the Falcons know that heavy a workload for one back is unsustainable, so they are planning to reduce his carries by getting Jerious Norwood more involved in the running game.

Q: How big of an effect do you think the addition of Tony Gonzalez will have on the offense?

BM: After years of steady production from Alge Crumpler, the Falcons' three tight ends last season combined to catch just 19 passes. So adding a future Hall of Fame tight end who caught nearly 100 balls in the Kansas City Chiefs' 28th-ranked pass offense is a huge addition. Gonzalez will be a frequent target of Ryan's on third downs and in the red zone, but he'll also open things up for Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.

Q: How big of a factor in the offense will former Dolphins wide receiver Marty Booker be?

BM: White starts alongside Jenkins, and Brian Finneran is a solid possession receiver. Booker is the team's fourth receiver, which is a more diminished role when you consider that Tony Gonzalez will rarely, if ever, come off the field.

Q: How good at pass blocking are the Falcons offensive tackles?

BM: The Falcons line as a whole did an outstanding job of protecting Ryan last season (17 sacks in 434 attempts) , and with 2008 first-round offensive tackle Sam Baker back and healthy, that figures to continue. When the Falcons hosted the San Diego Chargers in Week 3 of the preseason, Ryan attempted 20 passes and wasn't sacked once. He buys himself a lot of time with his quick decision-making and mobility, but the line does a pretty good job of keeping pass rushers out of his face.

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