Week 2 Preview: Cardinals @ Falcons

vs.

2010 Regular Season Records:

Cardinals: 1-0, last week: W @ Rams

Falcons:  0-1, last week: L @ Steelers

Gametime:

Sunday, September 19th @ 1 p.m. EST., Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA

A Look Back and a Look Forward:

The Cardinals head into the Georgia Dome to take on the Falcons with one road win already in their pocket.  The Falcons, however, will prove to be a much tougher out than the Rams.  The Cardinals must play much better football than they did last week or they will easily be handed a defeat by a very dangerous Atlanta team.

Cardinals fans will certainly remember the last time these two teams hooked up.  It was, of course, the Wild Card game during the 2008 playoffs, which I was lucky enough to attend with my Dad.  The Cards knocked out the favored Falcons by the score of 30-24, ending Matt Ryan’s fantastic rookie campaign in the process.  The Cardinals’ success continued since that game, but the Falcons have scuffled, mostly due to Michael Turner’s injury and a slight regression by Matt Ryan.

Let’s turn our attention to the 2010 season.  In Week 1, the Falcons suffered a tough overtime defeat, losing 15-9 in Pittsburgh on a 50-yard Rashard Mendenhall run.  Matt Ryan had an up and down game completing 27 of 44 attempts for 252 yards, no TDs, and 1 INT.  The interception by Polamalu precluded Atlanta from ending the game during regulation.  In addition, Michael Turner was totally shut down.  The feature back only gained 42 yards on 17 carries.  Roddy White did reel in 13 catches for 111 yards, but no TDs.

Atlanta’s Week 1 offensive struggles shouldn’t give the Cardinals a false sense of confidence, though.  Atlanta played a top flight defense in Pittsburgh.  Make no mistake, the Falcons have a lot of fire power on offense, but their defense is exploitable (more on this later).  If the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger under center, I’m willing to bet that Pittsburgh would not have had to scratch out such a gritty win.

Speaking of scratching out a win, the Cardinals barely did so in St. Louis against the Rams, thanks in large part to Steve Breaston’s early play of the year candidate.  Derek Anderson fumbled the ball after getting dropped.  Rams’ DT Clifton Ryan scooped it up and rumbled down the field all the way to the 1-yard line.  Breaston, however, didn’t resign to watch the Rams stretch their lead to 20-10.  The number two receiver chased Ryan down and stripped the ball allowing Lyle Sendlein to fall on it in the endzone for a game saving touchback.  Without Breaston and Sendlein’s hustle, the Cardinals almost certainly would have lost in St. Louis.

Derek Anderson (22/41, 297 yards, 1  TD, 0 INT) certainly didn’t dazzle in the opener.  His timing and accuracy were way off on a number of passes, especially with Larry Fitzgerald; the two failed to connect on 12 of 15 targets against the Rams.  In addition, the Rams dropped two gimme picks.  Anderson, however, did show the courage and leadership that Whisenhunt loves throughout the game and he delivered the touchdown pass when the Cards needed it.  His favorite target by far was Steve Breaston, who caught seven passes for 132 yards.  The other receiver, Fitzgerald, also caught 3 passes for 43 yards and the previously mentioned touchdown.

Adrian Wilson, who was awarded the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts, had another amazing game for the Cardinals on defense.  The senior Cardinal recorded two interceptions, a blocked field goal, and a sack.  There’s nothing more you could possibly ask from one player.  If it weren’t for Wilson and Breaston’s high level of play, the Cards would probably be heading into the Georgia Dome with a crushing 0-1 start.  Instead, Arizona is going for two road wins in a row to start the 2010 season.

It won’t be an easy task, though.  Atlanta is a tough opponent with a great offense and a capable defense, especially in the hostile Georgia Dome, where the Cardinals have not had much success recently.  After a sloppy win against the Rams, Arizona must execute at a drastically higher level to contend with, let alone defeat Atlanta at home.  If they don’t, this game could get out of control very quickly.  The Falcons are coming off a disappointing heart breaker against Pittsburgh and they certainly don’t want to go 0-2.  They are going to come out fired up and ready to take care of business at their home opener.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, are traveling all the way across the country into hostile territory after a shaky start.  They really need to get their heads screwed on straight to take this one from the Falcons, which no doubt will be an uphill battle.  Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Daunta Robinson, Curtis Lofton; this team has some serious weapons on both sides of the ball.

Cardinals’ Week 2 Depth Chart:

Injury Legend: * = probable, ^ = questionable, ` = will not play

Offense:

WR1 – * Larry Fitzgerald, Stephen Williams, Max Komar

LT – Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges

LG – Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot

C – Lyle Sendlein, Ben Claxton, Rex Hadnot

RG – Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot

RT – Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges

TE – Ben Patrick, Stephen Spach, Jim Dray

WR2 – Steve Breaston, `Early Doucet, Andre Roberts

QB – Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton

RB – T. Hightower, ^Beanie Wells, *J. Wright, LaRod Stephens-Howling

FB – Jerome Johnson

Defense: 3-4 Base

DE – Calais Campbell,^Kenny Iwebema

NT – Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Dan Williams

DT – Darnell Dockett, Alan Branch

ROLB – Joey Porter, Cyril Obiozor

RILB – Paris Lenon, Reggie Walker

LILB – Daryl Washington, Reggie Walker

LOLB – Clark Haggans, Will Davis

RCB – Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, A.J. Jefferson

LCB – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Michael Adams, Brandon McDonald

SS – Adrian Wilson, Matt Ware, ^Hamza Abdullah

FS – Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson

Falcons’ Week 2 Depth Chart:

Offense:

WR1 – ^Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran, Eric Weems

LT – Sam Baker, Will Svitek

LG – Justin Blalock

C – Todd McClure, *Joe Hawley

RG – Harvey Dahl, Mike Johnson

RT – *Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds

TE – Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peelle, Michael Palmer

WR2 – Roddy White, Harry Douglas

QB – Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, J.P. Wilson

RB – Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith

FB – Ovie Mughelli

Defense: 4-3 Base

LDE – Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis

LDT – Peira Jerry, Vance Walker

RDT – Jonathan Babineaux, Trey Lewis, ^Corey Peters

RDE – John Abraham, Lawrence Sidbury

SSLB – Sean Witherspoon, Stephen Nicholas

MLB – Curtis Lofton, Coy Wire

WILB – Mike Peterson, Spencer Adkins

LCB – Brent Grimes, *Brian Williams

RCB – *Daunta Robinson, *Christopher Owens, Dominqiue Franks

SS – ^Erik Coleman, William Moore

FS – Thomas DeCloud, Shann Schillinger

Keys to a Cardinals Victory:

Offense:

  • Secure the Football:  There’s no doubt that the word is out on the Cardinals’ ball security problems, which apparently is a hangover issue from last season.  Tim Hightower didn’t waste any time adding to his impressive five fumble season last year with two more in the first game of 2010.  If the Cardinals fumble seven times (or really at all) against the Falcons, they will probably lose this game.  The Cardinals must do a better job taking care of the ball.  Hightower, Anderson, and Komar were all guilty of multiple fumbles against the Rams, which can’t be repeated. The Falcons offense has too many weapons to allow them free shots at points.  In addition, the Rams dropped two easy interceptions in week 1.  Anderson may not be so lucky against the Falcons’ defense, which already notched a pick against the Steelers.
  • Control the Middle of the Field: The Falcons have a lot of speed and talent at linebacker, especially with the addition of first round pick Sean Witherspoon playing strong side linebacker.  In addition, MLB Curtis Lofton is a beast and should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year.  He totaled 133 tackles with two forced fumbles and is a very strong run stopper.  The Cardinals don’t have the speed anywhere on their roster to compete with the Falcons’ ability to make plays on the edge.  Neither Hightower nor Wells are particular fast runners and each are move effective working between the tackles, which should set up quite a battle in the middle of the field.  In addition, the Falcons look ripe for a ground attack, which is evidenced by the fact that they gave up 143 yards rushing in Week 1, though 50 of those yards came on the final play in overtime.  Still, that’s 93 yards allowed during regulation against a relatively weak Pittsburgh offensive line.  The Falcons believe, however, that they’re improved inside this year.  Peira Jerry returned from a torn ACL and Atlanta added third-round pick Corey Peters to bolster the defensive line.  In addition, their best defensive lineman, Jonathan Babineaux will return to play in Week 2.  Babineaux and Lofton are going to give the Cards problems, but it seems tough to have confidence in Jerry, a guy recovering from an ACL tear, and Peters, a rookie, to improve an already weak run defense.  If Faneca, Sendlein, and Lutui can lock down the interior, the Cardinals can pound Beanie Wells (assuming he plays) and control the middle of the field, neutralizing the Falcons’ athletic playmakers on the edge.
  • Shut Down DE John Abraham:  Abraham’s regression to only 5.5 sacks in 2009 was most likely a fluke.  It seems unreasonable to think he’ll return to 16.5 sack performance in 2008, but he’s a force to be reckoned with and will be tackle Brandon Keith’s first real challenge of the 2010 season.  If the Cardinals succeed in neutralizing the interior pass rush generated by Jerry, Babineaux, and Peters, the Cards may be able to give Keith some help with Abraham on the edge.  In any event, it would be wise to keep a running back in to protect Anderson by chipping on Abraham on passing downs, especially on deep drops.
  • Take Some Shots Deep: Speaking of deep drops, the Cards should open up and take some shots down field.  Derek Anderson may not have the most accurate arm, but what he does have is a rocket launcher.  The Cardinals under Kurt Warner were champions of the underneath route.  With Anderson running the show, Whisenhunt may do well to take some shots down the field, allowing the speedy and athletic Breaston or the leaping ability of Fitzgerald (when healthy enough) to make a play on the ball.  Check downs and five yard slants are fine, but at some point the Cardinals need to show a defense they can strike for dynamic plays that eat up large chunks of yards.  In addition, four members of the Falcons’ secondary are nicked up, including Daunta Robinson, who’s recovering from an ankle injury.

Defense:

  • Keep RB Michael Turner Running Laterally: Unfortunately, there are a lot of things to worry about the Falcons’ offense.  It’s tough to totally stop Turner, but he’s much more dangerous when running down hill between the tackles where he can break through for a long gain.  When the Cardinals had success against Turner in 2008, they severely limited his ability to run up the middle.  As a result, the Cardinals were able to keep Turner moving laterally, thereby neutralizing his power and ability to break tackles.  All this boils down to Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington, and Bryan Robinson having a very solid game up the middle for the Cardinals’ defense, which may be a lot to ask considering Lenon and Robinson are aging veterans with limited skills.  The Steelers held Turner to 42 yards on 19 carries for a ridiculous 2.2 yards per carry.  Let’s face it, though, the Cardinals’ defense isn’t the Steelers’ defense.  Turner will have more success against the Cardinals, but hopefully not much more.
  • Be Physical with WR Roddy White: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will most likely be tasked with shutting down the Pro Bowl receiver.  White is a big play threat and DRC will definitely have his hands full.  It would help a lot if DRC played press coverage and got his hands on White at the line of scrimmage.  DRC is a big tall guy and he’s definitely got the speed to make up some ground if White is able to slip past him on a play or two.  If DRC can get his hands on White, it could seriously disrupt Ryan’s timing with White.  DRC was up to the challenge the last time these two matched up in the 2008 Wild Card game, as DRC stepped in front White on a deep Matt Ryan pass to secure the pick.  White already notched a great game against a tough Steelers’ defense by recording 13 receptions for 111 yards.  DRC has improved since the last time these two locked up and this should be a great match up to watch.
  • Confuse QB Matt Ryan by Blitzing Wilson and Rhodes: Although the 3rd year QB had a bit of a slump in 2009, mostly due to  a nagging turf toe injury, there’s little doubt that he’s a top QB.  As a result, the Cardinals must do what they can to confuse Ryan, who’s still susceptible to making questionable decisions.  To wit, Ryan threw a late game interception into the hands of Troy Polamalu.  It seems like a great opportunity to place Adrian Wilson close to the line of scrimmage, which should definitely get Ryan’s attention.  Kerry Rhodes and Greg Toler had solid games in coverage last week, which should give Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis some confidence to free up Wilson to be a dynamic play maker.  In addition, Kerry Rhodes is an adept blitzer.  If the Cardinals are able to alternate sending Wilson and Rhodes after Ryan from a number of different looks, it should go a long way in confusing Matty Ice.

AccuScore Projection:

Falcons 70% favorite to the Cardinals 30% underdog

Average Scores: Falcons – 26.7, Cardinals – 20.3

Head to Head Meetings:

The Cardinals have a 1-3 regular season record since 2001 and an all-time 14-10 regular season record against the Falcons.

The Cards have an all-time 6-9 regular season record in the Georgia Dome.

The home team won the last 4/5 meetings between these two teams.

  • January 3, 2009: Atlanta 24 @ Arizona 30, NFC Wild Card Game
  • December 23, 2007: Atlanta 27 @ Arizona 30
  • October 1, 2006: Arizona 10 @ Atlanta 32
  • September 26, 2004: Arizona 3 @ Atlanta 6
  • September 30, 2001: Atlanta 34 @ Arizona 14

Atlanta Falcons’ Key Returning Personnel:

  • QB, Matt Ryan
  • RB, Michael Turner
  • WR, Roddy White
  • LB, Curtis Lofton
  • DT, Jonathan Babineaux
  • DE, John Abraham
  • TE, Tony Gonzalez

Atlanta Falcons’ Key Losses:

  • CB, Chris Houston
  • CB, Tye Hill

Atlanta Falcons’ Key Additions:

  • CB, Daunta Robinson
  • LB, Sean Witherspoon
  • DT, Corey Peters
  • G, Mike Johnson

Falcons vs. Cardinals 2010 Season Rankings:

Falcons:

  • Passing Yards: 11th (237 yards/game)
  • Rushing Yards: 27th (58 yards/game)
  • Passing Yards Allowed: 17th (211 yards/game)
  • Rushing Yards Allowed: 29th (143 yards/game)

Cardinals:

  • Passing Yards: 7th (266.0 yards/game)
  • Rushing Yards: 14th (112.0 yards/game)
  • Passing Yards Allowed: 23rd (240.0 yards allowed/game)
  • Rushing Yards Allowed: 9th (85.0 yards allowed/game)

Falcons vs. Cardinals 2009 Leaders:

Falcons:

  • Passing: Matt Ryan– 263/451, 2,916 yds, 22 TDs, 14 INTs, 80.9 rating
  • Rushing: Michael Turner – 178 carries, 871 yds, 1o TDs
  • Receiving: Roddy White – 85 receptions, 1153 yards, 11 TDs
  • Tackles: Curtis Lofton – 105 solo, 38 assists
  • INTs: Brent Grimes – 6 INts

Cardinals:

  • Pass: Kurt Warner– 339/513, 3753 yds, 26 TDs, 14 INTs, 93.2 rating
  • Rushing: Beanie Wells – 176 car, 793 yds, 7 TDs
  • Receiving: Larry Fitzgerald – 97 rec, 1092 yds, 13 TDs
  • Tackles: Karlos Dansby – 89 solo, 20 assists, 1 sack
  • INTs: Dominqiue Rodgers-Cromartie – 6 INTs, 1 TD

Falcons’ 2010 Season Outlook:

The Falcons are definitely looking to improve on their 9-7 season in 2009.  Atlanta was marred by injuries last year, including Michael Turner.  With Turner healthy and leaner than ever, he’s primed to have a big season, even if he was shut down by Pittsburgh last week.  Matt Ryan, like the team as a whole, is looking to rebound from a down season after a great rookie campaign.  Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Jenkins (when he gets healthy) should provide Ryan with all the targets he could want.  This offense is dynamic and they can beat teams on the ground and in the air.  I believe they ran into a buzz saw in week one and they will definitely score much more than nine points per game in 2010.

The Falcons’ defense, however, remains the question mark.  As noted, Atlanta should benefit from the return of Peira Jerry, who will play alongside Jonathan Babineaux this week.  Sean Weatherspoon looks like he will make an immediate impact and Daunta Robinson will solve a big piece of the puzzle in the secondary.  Curtis Lofton is a force at linebacker and if John Abraham to return to his 2008 form, the Falcons’ defense should be much improved.  Atlanta, however, must contend with the Saints, which should prove a very difficult task.  If they don’t take the NFC South away from New Orleans, the Falcons could definitely be in play for a wild card berth.


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