Setting the Stage:
Cards laid an egg in Seattle. Falcs lost a squeaker to Cleveland (done in by a 37 yard Cundiff FG as time expired). Cards are 8 & 2 and positioned well to make the playoffs and possibly a good seeding. Falcs are 4 & 7 yet are somehow tied for 1st place in the NFC South. All 7 Atlanta losses are to teams outside their division.
Opponents' Last Game:
Atlanta lost to the Browns 26- 24. Coach Mike Brown admitted after the game that he shouldn't have called "time out" on a 3rd & 3 - down 2 points, with 0:55 to go (i.e. he could have let the clock run down before executing the third-down play and kicking what would have been the winning field goal). Instead, he gave the Browns enough time after the FG to move down the field and kick one of their own (the game winner).
Atlanta received. Hester ran the KO out to the Atlanta 19. A 20-yard completion (from Ryan to R White) helped them move to their own 45, but they had to settled for a 40-yard Bosher punt which was fair caught at the Cleveland 15. The Browns were able to reach their 28 in five plays before punting. Hester ran it out of bounds at the 43 (a 12-yard pickup). Ryan moved the Falcs to the Cleveland 24 where he hit J Jones over the middle for a TD. (Other than the TD play, the longest yardage gained during the 10 play drive was for 9 yards). Falcons 7 - Browns 0.
TB on the KO. Hoyer brought the Browns to the Falcon 11 where Crowell ran it in off left tackle. Other key plays during the 10-play drive: Hoyer to J Gordon for +12; Hoyer short pass to Hawkins for +17; Hoyer short pass left to M Gordon for +22. Falcons 7 - Browns 7.
Hester returned the KO to the Falcon 9. Ryan was sacked for minus-6. J. Rodgers picked up seven yards as the quarter ended
First Quarter Score: Falcons 7 - Browns 7.
On the first play of the quarter, Ryan's pass for J Jones was picked off by Hayden. Browns took over on the Atlanta 29. They ran out of plays at the Falcon 15 where Cundiff's FG try was good from 33. Browns 10 - Falcons 7.
Hester returned the KO to the Atlanta 23. A 13-yard pass to Hester helped them get out to their own 43, but, on the 5th play of the series, Ryan was sacked for minus-3 and his fumble recovered by Cleveland at the Atlanta 40. Hoyer moved the Browns to the Atlanta 19 in four plays where they settled for a 37-yard Cundiff FG. TB es. Browns 13 - Falcons 7.
TB on the KO. A 32-yard completion from Ryan to R White and a 10-yard catch & run by Stephen Jackson got Atlanta as far as the Cleveland 43, but they had to punt it away. Bosher's punt 43 went into the end zone for a TB. Cleveland ball; 5:47 til halftime. A 17-yard completion to Hawkins helped move Cleveland to the Falcon 44; but Hoyer's pass for Dray was picked off by Ishmae and returned to midfield. 2:52 left.
Ryan hit J Jones for +21 and reached the Cleveland 8, where Ryan hit J Rodgers over the middle for a TD. Falcons 14 - Browns 13.
TB on the KO. 0:55 till halftime. Browns managed to get as close as the Falcon 42, but Cundiff's 60-yard FG attempt with 0:03 left was no good (& actually returned for 75 yards by Hester before the clock ran out.
First Half Score: Falcons 14 - Browns 13.
Browns received. TB on the KO. Hoyer engineered an 11-play drive capped by a 32-yard Cundiff FG. Other key plays during the drive: A short pass over the middle to Hawkins for +40 yards. Hoyer sacked at the Atlanta 5 by Biermann for minus-9. Cleveland 16 - Atlanta 14.
Hester returned the KO to his own 17. A minus-12 yard sack of Ryan helped to keep Atlanta pinned in their own territory and they punted from their own 22. Bosher's 48-yard punt went out of bounds at the Cleveland 30. Cleveland showed Atlanta "a whole lot of Towson with West running the ball 5 times as part of a 9-play drive (7 plays on the ground) capped by a 26-yard TD ramble by Crowell. Cleveland 23 - Atlanta 14.
TB on the KO. Atlanta. A 16-yard completion to Hester put the ball on the Atlanta 40 as the quarter ended.
Third Quarter Score: Cleveland 23 - Atlanta 14.
Atlanta then used up 6:15 worth of clock to finish off a 14-play drive which ended with a one-yard Stephen Jackson run up the middle for a TD. Longest play from scrimmage was a 10-yard completion from Ryan to R White. Cleveland 23 - Atlanta 21.
TB on the KO. Plenty of time (9:31 left. Cleveland briskly moved to the Atlanta 6-yard line - assisted by a cluster of penalties and a 20-yard run by West - but on the 7th play of the possession, Hoyer's pass for J Gordon was picked off by Trufant at the back of the end zone. Atlanta ball on its own twenty with 4:51 left on the clock.
A 12-yard Hester run on the 2nd play of the series helped move Atlanta out to their own 32, but Ryan was unable to get much going and Bosher's punt was fair caught at the Cleveland 16. On the 4th play of the Cleveland possession - at their own 19; on 3rd & 7 with 2:51 on the clock - Cleveland elected to go deep. Hoyer's pass for J Gordon was picked off by Southward at midfield and returned to the Atlanta 45.
2:42 left. Ryan nickeled and dimed his way to the Cleveland 35 (longest play was a 9-yard completion to J Jones). Bryant's 53-yard FG attempt was good. Atlanta now up by one. Unbelievable! Atlanta 24 - Cleveland 23.
0:44 left. TB on the KO. After an incompletion, Hoyer hit Austin for +11 and came back to connect with J Gordon for +24 yards, Barnidge for +15 and Austin for +11 before spiking the ball on the Atlanta 19 with 0:05 left to play. Cundiff's 37-yard chip-shot at the whistle was the game-winner.
Final Score: Cleveland 26 - Atlanta 24.
It was a see-saw affair that mightn't have been such a nail-biter if Cleveland hadn't rolled the dice and gotten picked off late in the 4Q to allow Atlanta to kick what was almost the winning FG (& forcing Cleveland to come back to kick the game-winner at the final gun).
Ryan completed 27 of 43 passes for 273 yards, 2 TD's and one interception.
White was the leading receiver with 9 catches for 96 yards followed byJ Jones (5 grabs for 68 yards & a TD) and Hester (4 catches for 50 yards).
Jackson picked up 34 yards and a TD on 13 carries.
Turnover Ratio was +1 (Atlanta had 3 picks - by Ishmael, Southwards and Trufant. Cleveland had one pick - by Haden. Cleveland recovered a fumble by Ryan.).
Ryan was sacked 3 times (Atlanta sacked Hoyer just once).
Tackles: lshmael 11, Bartu 8, McClain and Worrilow 6 each.
Atlanta gained 63 net rushing yards (while giving up162 to Cleveland).
Falcs gave up 313 net passing yards (while gaining 252).
Atlanta was penalized 7 times for 40 yards. Cleveland was penalized 5 times for 30).
Time of Possession was pretty even: Cleveland 30:37/Atlanta: 29:23
What the Season Stats Do (or Don't) Tell Us
(Note - Published team statistics may not reflect a team's most recent game or even two).
Total First Downs: Atlanta 228; Opponents 251.
First Downs by Rushing, Passing, Penalty: Atlanta 54-157-17; Opponents: 78-151-22. (Atlanta relies more on the run than on the pass to pick up first downs).
3rd Down Conversions: Atlanta 61 of 141. Opponents 70 of 149.
Fourth Down Conversions: Atlanta 3 for 9; Opponents 3 for 4
Offense - Total Yards: Atlanta 3,988; Opponents 4,509. (Atlanta lags its opponents in total yards).
Offensive Plays/(Average Yards): Atlanta 703/(5.6); Opponents: 738/(6.1)
Total Rushing Yards: Atlanta 1,024; Opponents 1,384 (Falcon opponents have outgained them on the ground).
Rushing Plays (YPC). Atlanta 256 (4.0); Opponents: 334 (4.1) (One reason for Atlanta's lag in total running yards is that they attempted fewer running plays).
Stephen Jackson leads Falcon rushers with 501 yards on 141 carries (3.6 YPC). He has 5 TD. Jackson is followed by Freeman (154 on 40 carries for 3.9 YPC). Antone Smith (48 yards) has the longest run this year.
Total Passing Yards Atlanta 3,130; Opponents 3,210 (Pretty even)
Passing Comp-Att-Int-YPC: Atlanta 279/428/10 (7.3); Opponents 244/393/12 (8.2) (Falcons average about a yard less per attempt).
Ryan completed 65.1% of his passes for 19 TD's and 9 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times. He has a 92.6 QB Rating.
J Jones leads Atlanta receivers with 72 catches for 980 yards (& 4 TD's). Roddy White is next with 662 yards on 56 catches (& 5 TD's). Hester is next with 26 receptions, but Antone Smith is a below-the-radar threat whose averaging 17.1 YPC and has 3 TD's.
Sacks: Atlanta sacked opponents 14; Opponents sacked Ryan 23. With receivers like J Jones, White and Hester (& Jackson blocking out of the backfield), you'd logically conclude that Atlanta's got some struggles on their OL.
Field Goals: Atlanta 17/19; Opponents 23/30.
Turnover Ratio: +4.
Time of Possession: Atlanta 28:50; Opponents 31:19.
Bosher averages 3.0 yards per punt more than opposing punters, but is fairly equal with them in punting for touchbacks or inside the 20.
Hester is averaging 12.5 per punt return (3.2 yards more than opposing punt returners). His longest gain this year is for 62 yards. On punt returns, he's averaging 22.9 YPR (but Atlanta's opponents are averaging 22.8).
Worrilow leads the team in tackles with 103 followed by Ishmael 69, Bartu 62 and Biermann 58 (Who are these guys)?
Umenyiora (whom I believe is injured) is tied with Biermann for the teamlead in sacks with 2.5 sacks followed by Worrilow (2.0) and Massaquoi (2.0).
Ishmael (4), Alford (3) and Trufant (2) lead the team in interceptions.
Atlanta's base offense figures to line up: One RB, One TE, a FB and 2 WR's. On defense, their depth chart has them lining up in a 4 -2 with 3 corners and 2 safeties (not designated "strong or "free"). It's unclear whether they line up "left-right" or"strong-weak."
WR...84 R White........83 Douglas.......14 Weems
LT 70 J Matthews..68 Carini...........65 Bradfield
LG 63 Blalock
C 62 Stone...........69 Gunn
RG 75 Asamoah
RT 73 Schraeder....64 Scott
TE.....80 Tollolo..........86 Pascoe
WR...11 J Jones........17 Hester..........18 Martino
QB....02 Ryan............13 Yates............12 Renfree
RB 39 S Jackson.....32 J Rodgers....24 Freeman
DE 95 Kelly...........96 K,Martin
NT 92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu
DT 98 Rucker 72 Stinson
SLB 57 Okafor........53 Keiser
ILB 50 Foote..........54 Demens
ILB 51 Minter..........97 Alexander 56 Carson
WLB 94 Acho...........59 Benard
LCB 21 Peterson.....28 Bethel
RCB 31 Cromartie....25 Powers
SS 22 Jefferson.....36 Bucannon
FS 32 Mathieu.......26 R. Johnson
Matchup: Atlanta Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
On paper, the Falcons should line up as having one of the elite offenses in the NFL. They've got Matt Ryan throwing to Julius Jones, Roddy White and the ever-dangerous Jesse Hester. They've got Steven Jackson loading it up in the run game. They've got Jake Matthews holding down LT, and Blalock's a pretty good LG. Where they might fall short a little bit is at TE (with Gonzalez gone) and on the right side of their offensive line.
Reviewing the stats, one thing that leaps out at you is the number of sacks Atlanta has given up compared to their opponents (23 to 14). Cardinals (7 sacks last week vs. Seattle) led by Campbell are beginning to come on.
It will be up to the Cardinal "back 8" to contain Jones, White, Hester and Antone Smith; with its pass rushers working hard to make Ryan throw earlier than he wants to. One break this week - Ryan isn't quite as mobile as was Russell Wilson a week ago.
Key Matchups: Peterson and Cromartie vs. J Jones and White. Matthews and Blalock vs. Campbell, Kelly & Okafor.
Matchup: Atlanta Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Steven Jackson has been a dominating RB for several years (but mostly when he was lining up for the Rams). Open issue here has to do with the remaining proverbial gas in the proverbial tank. He showed a little bit of "beast" on that one yard TD run vs. Cleveland and has been known to take over football games when he's able to build up a head of steam. Yet Jackson's YPC figure is an unimpressive 3.6 (maybe the issue is his blockers). Or it could be that the Falcon defense is making the Falcons have to come from behind more than they'd like - which in turn would put more pressure on the Atlanta passing attack.
Key Matchups: Jackson and his blockers vs. Cardinal Front 7 (or 8). Cardinal newcomer Josh Mauro could be a difference-maker on run "D".
WR1 11 Fitzgerald....19 Ginn...............13 John Brown
LT 68 Veldheer......79 Sowell
LG 62 Larsen..., ....61 Cooper
C 63 Sendlein......62 Larsen
RG 74 Fanaika.......78 Watford
RT 70 Massie........79 Sowell
TE 87 Niklas..........85 Fells
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....13 Jaron Brown
QB 05 Stanton......06 Thomas...........xx Lindley
RB 38 Ellington.....30 Taylor.............39 Hughes....29 Bush
TE 89 Carlson.......84 Housler
DE.....71 Biermann.....50 Umenyiora......90 Maponga
DT......99 T Jackson....77 Hageman.......98 C Matthews
DT......96 Solai............91 Peters
DE.....95 Babineaux....94 Massaquoi.......93 Goodman
LB.....55 Worrilow........52 Stupar
LB.....53 Shembo........59 Bartu
CB.....23 Alford...........28 Arenas
CB....27 McClain........26 J Wilson.......27 Simon
S.......36 Ishmael........30 Godfrey
S.......20 Lowery..........41 Southward
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Atlanta Pass Defense
Falcons operate out of a somewhat funky base defense that sports just 2 LB's and 3 corners. They seem pretty well stocked at the interior of their D-line, but the rest of their roster doesn't appear to have many guys you've heard much about. The one exception might be Trufant (over from Seattle) at #3 corner.
I'd expect that Drew Stanton will want to make up for a subpar outing last week, plagued by inconsistent accuracy and a drospy epidemic at crunch time. I'd also expect Drew to spread things around to multiple receivers, RB's and TE's. It's 50-50 whether the Cardinal threesome of Fitz, Floyd and John Brown will have to remain Jaron Brown, Floyd and John Brown (Fitz's knee is still iffy).
Atlanta's most prolific pass rusher is Biermann with 2.5 (which may mean that Stanton - arguably for the first time this season - may have time to drop back, find the open receiver and throw.
Key Matchup: Floyd vs.Trufant. John Brown vs. McClain. Jaron Brown vs. Alford (or any combination thereof). Carlson vs. Ishmael. Ellington vs. Worrilow.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Atlanta Run Defense
Cardinals picked up veteran RB Michael Bush "off the street" (he was last on an active roster last Spring). It is felt that the 245 lb Bush will be a positive force between the tackles and as a blocker. Whether he's "plug 'n play" (i.e. knows Arians' system and is physically good to go remains to be seen.
The Cardinal running attack, of late, has been anemic at best - typically a few Ellington 15-yard gains off sweeps and screens sandwiched among a bunch of minus-1 or 2 yard losses. Hopefully Bush will provide the necessary inside push to compliment Ellington.
We'll be going up against a defense not famous for its ability to stop the run. Falcs gave up 162 rushing yards vs. Cleveland. Expect BA to test the Atlanta run-defense early and often (because if he can establish the run, it will automatically take some of the pressure off Stanton and his blockers.
Key Matchup: Ellington and/or Bush vs. Worrilow and McClain.
P/KO/H 05 Bosher
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 19 Ginn 12 John Brown
PR 19 Ginn 21 Peterson 12 John Brown
Matchup: Atlanta Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Bryan has been a more-than-dependible kicker. Bosher has a stronger-than-average leg, but just an "average" directional punter. Hester was a Cardinal-killer when he was with the Bears and is more of a home run threat than even Ginn. Butler occasionally is slow getting rid of the ball (& has had two punts blocked this year). Catanzaro is starting to miss a couple of FG's but is still a reliable FG and kickoff specialist. Atlanta strikes me as a team with ordinary stats who relieson its special teams to help render those stats irrelvent.
Key matchups: Cardinal coverage teams vs. Hester.
Mike Smith is said to be having a rough year (Pat Kerwin on SIRIUS radio said that, observing him on the sideline of a recent game, he really looked mentally and physically burned out and might be well-advised to spend a year or so away from the game). One thing you have to like about Mike is that he's unafraid to shoulder the blame when something goes wrong - in the aftermath of last week's bitter loss to Cleveland, he acknowledged that he should have let the clock run down with 0:55 left to play (instead of calling a time time out); which in turn - after Atlanta kicked a FG to put them ahead - gave Cleveland enough time to come back and kick a FG of their own - what turned out to be a game-winner.
Despite having a losing record, Atlanta is still very well-motivated - being tied for first in the NFC south with a better-than-decent shot at a playoff spot. (Go figure). They have a bunch of talented athletes (especially on offense) who are capable of rising up and carrying the football team on their backs (I'm talking to you J Jones, R White, S Jackson and M Ryan). Underestimate them at your peril.
The challenge for Coach Arians is to take a team who couldn't put away Seattle, shake it by the scruff of its neck, turn them around and have them return to playing Cardinal football. Will the loss to Seattle represent a rallying cry? Or will it be nothing more than the dangerous top of an extremely slippery slope? (That's why they pay Bruce the big bucks).
This game figures to be the easiest game of our remaining six and one of two games we'll probably need to get us to 11 wins and a certain playoff spot (in other words, the ideal game for the Cardinals to take lightly and screw up). As such this is a "must game" (because it can very easily set the tone for the remaining games on our schedule). Will we ride the wave to victory Or will we get a bit shaky and lose a few games we shouldn't. Crunch time can be any time.