Game Preview: Miami at Atlanta

The Dolphins open the 2009 regular season with a game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Here's an overview of the matchup.

WHO: Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

SITE: Georgia Dome

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)

SERIES: 11th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series 7-3. Dolphins haven't won in Atlanta since 1980, when they claimed a 20-17 victory at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. They have made one regular-season trip to the Georgia Dome since it opened in 1991, losing 38-16 in 1998. The last matchup was in 2005, when Michael Vick led the Falcons to a 17-10 win at Miami.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons overhauled their defense, which features six new starters, and Miami's run-based offense presents a stiff first test. Rookie DT Peria Jerry is expected to start, and must be stout along the interior to help keep Dolphins QB Chad Pennington out of the shorter passing downs in which he is so efficient. Miami's defense will start its own rookie in a key spot in CB Sean Smith. The Falcons added TE Tony Gonzalez to the mix along with WRs Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, so there isn't much room for Smith to hide - and unheralded veteran Nate Jones is the nickelback. With a more potent passing attack, RB Michael Turner should find even more room to work.

FAST FACTS: Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano had a career-high seven touchdown catches in 2008. ... The Falcons were 7-1 at home last season.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Dolphins:

-- CB Vontae Davis practiced with a bruised left knee but didn't know if he'll be activated Sunday, but he was optimistic. Davis has fallen behind nickel corner Nate Jones and at best will only see the field in the dime package and on special teams.

-- FB Lousaka Polite is expected to increase his load in run-blocking situations and possibly serve as a pseudo tight end in the double tight end package since the loss of veteran TE David Martin (IR with a knee issue).

-- RB Lex Hilliard played his way on to the 53-man roster with hustle and versatility despite knowing that he's got three running backs in front of him in Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs. Hilliard realizes he needs to excel on special teams and had to re-learn how to tackle after not playing defense since 11th grade.

-- WR Brian Hartline will be used on the outside in certain receiver packages. The rookie out of Ohio State has passed by rookie WR Patrick Turner, who will most likely be inactive this week.

-- KR Ted Ginn Jr., who lost his kick return duties last season to Patrick Cobbs, has recaptured the role this preseason and is expected to be the primary return specialist this season, with fellow WR Davone Bess holding on to his punt returning duty.

-- QB Pat White is in the dark as to whether he will be among the 45 actives Sunday because the Dolphins don't want to tip their hand to Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who now must prepare for White taking some snaps in the Wildcat formation.

Falcons:

-- LT Sam Baker is clearly more at ease heading into his second season. "Even just walking around the locker room," Baker said. "You know where everything is and how it works. You know the schedule better."

-- TE Keith Zinger, after making the 53-man roster, switched his jersey number from 82 to 89.

-- SS William Moore, the Falcons' second-round pick out of Missouri, has a hamstring injury and will likely be inactive for the opener.

-- FS Thomas DeCoud is set to make his first NFL start. He was a third-round pick last season.

-- SS Erik Coleman set a career-high with 127 tackles last season and had three interceptions.


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