It’s been a while since the Falcons were coming off of a win, but that’s where the team finds themselves after an 8-point victory over Tampa Bay in Week 7. Now, Atlanta travels cross-country for a crucial tilt with the Arizona Cardinals, and we’ve got you covered with a full breakdown. Let’s get it going.
Opponent - Arizona Cardinals (3-4, 2-1 on Road)
Time/TV - 4:25 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Cardinals Defense
It’s rare that the Falcons offense elicits as much concern as the defense in a particular match-up, but that is certainly the case here, thanks to the Arizona defense and the injury bug. As of this post, there are positive signs surrounding the health of starting left tackle Sam Baker (listed as questionable) and featured running back Steven Jackson (listed as probable), but neither is guaranteed to play, and star wideout Roddy White was ruled out by Mike Smith on Friday. That leaves Matt Ryan short-handed for the second straight week, and this time, he’s away from the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.
Arizona’s defense ranks 7th in the league against the run this season, allowing only 97 yards per game, and the Falcons were virtually impotent on the ground last week. No matter who carries the ball between Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Jason Snelling, they’ll be in for a significant challenge, and I’d imagine that the offense is going to rest on Matt Ryan’s right arm again.
The Cardinals aren’t abominable against the pass, but they are far less stingy, allowing over 250 yards per game to account for their 16th-ranked total defense. Harry Douglas is coming off of the biggest game of his career against Tampa (149 yards and a touchdown), but that should bring more attention to him, especially with White on the shelf. That said, Ryan has displayed a willingness to spread the ball around, and Tony Gonzalez (provided he’s not double and triple-teamed) should have a bounceback day here.
Keep an eye on linebacker Daryl Washington for Arizona. He’s one of the more underrated defensive “stars” in the league, and he’ll be flying around to meet whichever running back is in the game.
Falcons Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
The Arizona offense is the opposite of outstanding. The Cardinals rank 29th in the league in total offense (309.7 yards per game) and 25th in the league in points per game (19.0). That is just what the doctor ordered against the Falcons this week, and quarterback Carson Palmer is (mostly) responsible for the mess.
The former USC, Cincinnati Bengals, and Oakland Raiders quarterback does rank 12th in the league in passing yardage, but he’s an abysmal 32nd in the league in ESPN’s “Total QBR” (measuring a QB’s overall worth), and Palmer isn’t stellar. For the year, he’s unleashed 13 interceptions versus 8 touchdowns, and the opportunistic members of the Falcons secondary should have a field day, even if they allow significant yardage to Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and company.
On the ground, Arizona continues to give carries to Rashard Mendenhall, and I can’t think of a single reason why. For the year, Mendenhall is averaging 3.1 yards per carry while his backup, Andre Ellington, is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and Mendenhall has been running around with a fork sticking out of his back for multiple years. That decision is the center of Arizona being 26th in the league in rushing offense, and the Falcons shouldn’t need to overload the box in order to slow that running game.
Home field advantage is crucial in the NFL, and that is the solitary reason why I’m worried about this game for Atlanta. Over the past few seasons, this simply hasn’t been the same team on the road, and when you factor in the mounting injury concerns, that worry is magnified. It’s probably a “coin flip” type of game because of Arizona’s relatively stout defense, but this is (obviously) one that the 2-4 Falcons can’t afford to lose if they want to continue to see the playoffs as an option for the future.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday (posted in the morning), and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!