Cardinals vs. Falcons: the matchup
CARDINALS VS FALCONS
|Points per game||16.0||27.4|
|Passing yards per game||219.2||292.6|
|Rushing yards per game||76.2||92.7|
|Total yards per game||295.4||385.2|
|Passing yards per game against||194.6||235.8|
|Rushing yards per game against||126.1||129.8|
|Total yards per game against||320.7||365.6|
When Cardinals have the ball:
The Arizona Cardinals used their bye week to rest up, self-examine, and make a few changes.
They have a tough test against the 8-1 Falcons, though it's worth noting Atlanta hasn't won games because of its defense.
The Cardinals will likely try to attack the Falcons on the ground with LaRod Stephens-Howling. They allowed 148 yards to the Saints last week, so it can be done.
That is, if the Falcons have to worry about the passing game, too.
With a bye week to get more acclimated to the starting role, the hope is John Skelton can build off a solid performance in Green Bay and get the offense going.
He'll of course be looking for Larry Fitzgerald (51 receptions, 585 yards, 4 TDs), Andre Roberts (40 receptions, 540 yards, 5 TDs) and maybe even rookie Michael Floyd, who figures to earn a more prominent role after a five-catch performance in Green Bay.
And it's Floyd who may prove to be the difference maker.
The Falcons' top two cornerbacks, Dunta Robinson (46 tackles, 1 interception) and Asante Samuel (28 tackles, 2 interceptions), are solid, and you can expect to see them get most of the time on Fitzgerald and Roberts. Robert McClain (25 tackles, 1 interception) is the team's third corner, and at 5-foot-9 may not have the size to matchup with the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Floyd.
It also would not be a surprise to see Rob Housler become more of a focus this week. New Orleans' Jimmy Graham torched the Falcons for 146 yards and two touchdowns last week and Housler, who has caught 14 passes over the last three games, has the size and speed to be a problem for the Falcons.
Of course, this assumes the offensive line can hold up well enough to give Skelton time to throw the ball.
They'll have to deal with defensive end John Abraham, who leads the team with 7 sacks, as well as linebacker Sean Witherspoon (3 sacks) and defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux (3.5 sacks).
When the Falcons have the ball:
The Falcons used to be a team that relied on a strong running game and threw only when necessary.
That's no longer the case.
Atlanta is led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who has thrown for 2,771 yards and 20 touchdowns against just seven interceptions this season. He's emerged as one of the best passers in the game and he has an embarrassment of riches with which to make his aerial assault.
Like, for instance, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. White leads the team with 54 receptions and 823 yards, while Jones, a second-year pro, has caught 44 passes for 703 yards and five scores this season. They each average more than 15 yards per reception, meaning they can get down the field.
Patrick Peterson (28 tackles, 3 interceptions) will likely match up with Jones, leaving William Gay (33 tackles, 1 interception) on White. Of course, the receivers are only 2/3 of the problem.
Tony Gonzalez, the tight end, is having another Pro Bowl-caliber campaign at the ripe old age of 36. He's already caught 61 passes for 617 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns. The Cardinals were burned by a tight end for a big play in Green Bay and will likely have a tough time keeping tabs on Gonzalez, though it's likely Daryl Washington (75 tackles, 8 sacks) and Paris Lenon (57 tackles, 2 sacks) will get the assignment.
It goes without saying the Cardinals could hinder Atlanta's passing game by getting pressure on Ryan. That may be difficult, though, with Calais Campbell and his 3.5 sacks likely missing the game and O'Brien Schofield and his 4 sacks also being lost. It may lead to the Cards, who are tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks, finding it tough to get to the passer.
Should that happen, the team would then need to contend with a running game featuring Michael Turner (529 yards, 4 TDs) and Jacquizz Rodgers (166 yards, 1 TD). Turner is not anything close to what he once was and Rodgers is not ready to be an every-down back, but with teams so worried about defending the pass each has had success on the ground.
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