Setting the Stage:
The 4 - 5 - 1 Cards are coming off a bitter loss that digs them a deep hole in the playoff hunt. The division leading Falcons (@ 6 - 4) are (fanfare!) coming off a Bye.
Late Breaking: In a series of roster moves (all targeting the LB position, the Cards signed Sio Moore to the regular roster, elevated LB Zavier Gooden to the PS, Placed LB Gabriel Martin on waived-injured, placed LB Joplo Bartu on IT and signed LB Reshard Cliett to the PS.
(Off-Topic): This writer's oft' futile search for single wing football on TV each Holiday season, hopefully has taken a turn for the better tomorrow when Menomonee HS of Michigan's upper peninsula returns to the State District 5 playoff scene. (Game will be televised tomorrow (Sat afternoon) on a FOXSports-Mich "layoff" DirecTV channel). Menonomee used to be well known as a single wing power (though last year, there were reports that they had moved to a more orthodox spread system. (Incidently, they didn't make it to the Finals a year ago). (I'm hoping that the move was a temporary one designed to fit the talent on last year's team and that single wing will be b-a-a-c-k on TV tomorrow).
Opponent's Last Game
No game last week - Falcs are coming off a Bye.
First Downs - Falcones 226/ Opponents 239
Third Down Conversions - Falcones 44/112 / Opponents 59/134
Fourth Down Conversions - Falcones 7/12 / Opponents 9/14
Offensive Yards - Falcones 4,166 / Opponents 3,859
Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Falcones 249/4.3 / Opponents 245/4.2
Passing Compl/Att/Int/AvgYds - Falcones 236/346/5/9.4 Opponents - 285/418/6/7.1
Sacks - Falcones 22.0 / Opponents 24.0
Field Goals - Falcones 23/25 / Opponents 16/20
Time of Possession - Falcones 29:25/ Opponents 31:11
Turnover Ratio - +3
Key Player Stats
Ryan - 236 of 346 for 3,247 yds, 68.2%, 9.4 YPA, 24 TD's, 5 INTS. 115.1 Rating.
Freeman - 145 for 669 yds (4.6.1 YPC) 3 TD's.
Coleman- 59 for 234 yds (4.0 YPC) 5TD's.
J Jones - 61 for 1,105 yds (18.1 YPA) 5 TD's.
Sanu - 39 for 430 yds (11.0 YPA) 3TD's.
Freeman - 31 for 252 (8.1 YPC) 2 TD's.
Tamme - 22 for 210 (9.5 YPC) 3 TD's.
Field Goals - Bryant: 23 for 25 (missed two outside the fifty)
Punting - Bosher: 46.9 gross avg
Punt Returns - Weems 15 for 11.7.4 avg
Kickoff Returns - Weems - 15 for 23.4 YPR
Tackles - Neal (66); D Jones (64); R Allen ((56); Ishmael (50).
Sacks -22 Sacks: (Beasley (9.5); Clayborn (4.5); Freeney (3). Opponents racked up 24 sacks
Interceptions - 6 Picks (Opponents also had 6) : D Jones and Alford had 2 apiece. Two Falcon interceptions were Pick 6's (Opponents returned one interception for a TD)
Fumble Recoveries - Falcs forced 12 fumbles (opponents forced 3).
WR......11 J Jones (E)..........16 Hardy. (BA)..........14 Weems (BA)
LT.........70 J Matthews (A)
LG........67 Levitre (AA)
OC 51 Mack (HQ) .........63 Garland (BA)
RG 65 Chester (P).........71 Schweitzer (NA)
RT 73 Schraeder (AA)...76 Compton (BA)
TE 83 Tamme (A)..........81 Hooper (BA) .........80 Toilolo (P)...........82 Perkins (P)
WR 12 Sanu (A) ............19 Robinson (BA)......18 Gabriel (A)
QB 02 Ryan (E).............08 Schaub (NA)
24 Freeman (A)........26 Coleman (A)..........28 Ward (BA) .........33 Ridley (P)
FB......42 DiMarco (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (E = Elite, P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality, NA = Not enough info)
LDE 93 Campbell (HQ) ......72 Stinson (P)
NT 98 Peters (BA)............69 X Williams (P).....72 Pierre (NA)
DT 95 Gunter (P).............92 Rucker (P) ..........97 Mauro (A)...90 Nkemdiche
SLB 55 C Jones (HQ).........57 Okafor (A)
ILB 20 Bucannon (AA) .....50 G Martin (P)........52 Gooden (P)
ILB 51 Minter (A)..............54 Bartu (NA)
WLB 44 Golden (AA)...........96 K Martin
LCB 21 Peterson AA)........29 Simon (A)
RCB 41 Cooper (P)............26 B Williams (P)......28 Bethel (P)
SS 36 Swearinger (AA)...32 Mathieu (A)
FS 22 T Jefferson (HQ)...25 C Bryant (BA) )
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality, NA = Not enough info, R = Rookie)
Matchup: Falcon Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
In week nine vs. TB, Matt Ryan had what PFF describes as "the cleanest game any QB has had all season" (from a passing standpoint) - 24 of 29 318 yds and 4 TD's.
His top receiver (Julio Jones) is averaging 18.1 yards per catch and has racked up 5 TD's. Gotta assume that Patrick Peterson knows what his role will be Sunday. Outside of a couple of botched snaps in Atlanta's last game against TB in week 9 (they're coming off a Bye), the entire offense graded out close to flawlessly. The OL only allowed 7 pressures out of 39 pass-pro snaps. Falcone receivers only dropped one pass (a deep one) all day.
A brief glance at the Falcon offensive depth chart suggests that their main passing deal is Ryan-to-J Jones with Sanu their backup target. They don't throw all that much to their TE (Tamme) with their RB (Freeman) their #3 receiver. RB Tevon Coleman comes off the Mash unit to add a couple of extra hands to the receiving game.
A pack of quality players are dotted throughout the Cardinal pass defense, but the entire unit is not playing "lights-out" in the coordination dept. Pass rushers, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have delivered to expectations - and more. Other Cardinal pass rushers, more often than not, seem to be a half-step late to the QB. (Memo to Calais: "You're a tall dude. Why aren't your hands consistently up high when you're pressuring the passer?")
Cardinal corners opposite Peterson (Cooper, Bethel etc.) aren't horrible, but they're just not consistent enough in aggressive coverage. Jefferson and Swearinger are above average safeties, but Atlanta - based on their level of receiving talent at TE and FB - may opt not to challenge them.
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. J Jones. Bethel or Cooper vs. Sanu. C Jones and Golden vs. Matthews and Schraeder.
Matchup: Falcon Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Atlanta is averaging 4.3 yards per rushing carry - not sensational but enough to allow the Falcon offense to play close-to-the-vest while waiting to take a few opportunistic shots in the passing game. (Metaphoric Example: "A solid ground game allows Falcon O-linemen to learn to do a few things well and operate calmly at the LOS. Compare this to the Cardinal O-line which seems to look more like a herd of elephants tip-toeing on the edge of a razor blade).
Card run-defense (usually) can shut down an opposiing running attack (the only exceptions being when the other team (example: New England) decides to play "smashmouth." Falcon media is making a big deal over the return of Tevon Coleman from injury. (When your team is already averaging 4.3 yads a pop, I don't know how much this actually would change things).
Key Matchup: Minter vs. Freeman (or Coleman). C Jones, Campbell, another lineman and Golden vs. Atlanta's OL.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald (HQ)......10 Golden (BA).......19 Huburt (R)
LT 73 Wetzel (P)..............75 Ulrick (NA)
LG 76 Iupati (A)
C 53 Shipley AA)...........70 Boehm (BA)........65 Boggs (P)
RG 78 Watford (P)...........61 Toner (R)
RT........74 Humphries (BA)
TE .85 Fells (BA).............89 Valles (P)
WR2 15 M. Floyd (BA).......12 John Brown (A).....14 JJ Nelson (P)
QB 03 Palmer (A)............05 Stanton (P)
RB 31 D Johnson (AA)....38 Ellington (BA) ......30 Taylor (BA)......K Williams (NA)
TE 84 Gresham (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality, R = Rookie, NA = Not enough info)
DE......50 Reed (P)....99 Clayborn (A).....93 Freeney (A)
DT........95 Babineaux (P)......98 C Matthews (P)
DT.....97 Jarrett (AA)......91 Upshaw (P)
DE....94 Tyson Jackson (P).....77 Hageman (A)..
LB......44 Beasley (A)......41 Wheeler (P)
LB.....45 D Jones (BA).....55 Worrilow (P).....53 Reynolds (P)
LB....59 Campbell (P)
CB....32 Collins (HQ)....23 Alford (A).....29 Goodwin (P).
CB....21 Trufant (A)......34 Poole (A)
S......37 Allen (A) .....27 Therezie (BA)......20 Neasman (NA)
S......22 Neal (AA)....36 Ishmael (BA)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality)
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Falcon Pass Defense
Forget about how good Carson Palmer may have looked 90% of the time last Sunday - one miscue flipped the game by costing us 10 /maybe as many as 14 points. Since we only lost by 6-points, - most high school math students would describe this as the "margin of victory."
You can't keep doing that.
(Unfortunately, each week, Carson does it and, each week, we keep saying "the same thing).
This is a matchup segment, so we have to, once again, say: "He can't keep doing that." A mistake-free Palmer probably would mean a fair country chance at a Cardinal win.
It won't be easy. The Falcon secondary (with Collins, Trufant and Alford at the corners) is a tough match for our receivers. Their safeties (Neal and Allen) are average or better. Their outside guy Beasley has 9.5 sacks to his credit and will be coming off a Bye week against a banged up Cardinal OL.
Cards best chance may be to play this one "inside the tackles", emphasize our "short game" and hope Atlanta makes more mistakes than we do.
Key Matchups: D Johnson vs. Neal. Fitz vs. Collins. Floyd vs. Trufant. smokey vs. Alford. Wentzel or Humphries vs. Beasley, Clayborn or Freeney.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Falcon Run Defense
Atlanta is OK vs. the run, but - giving up an average of 4.2 per carry aren't exactly "elite" in this dept. either.
David Johnson ran for more than a hundred yet again last week. Even more impressive, he seems to have a bonafide nose for the goal line. It wouldn't shock us to see BA handing out big doses of "Pay Dirt Davey" and keep doing it until the Falcs prove they can stop him. Cards are starting to use Ellington well in relief, but we'd like to see Penny elevated to provide more short-yardage thump when we need it.
This may turn out to be one of those "13 - 10" types of games.
Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Neal or Jones. Shipley vs. Jarrett
K 03 Bryant
P 05 Bosher
H 05 Bosher
KR 14 Weems
PR 14 Weems
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 46 Brewer
KR 38 Ellington
PR 12 Jn Brown
Matchup: Falc Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Falcons have the edge in both punting and kicking production.
Erratic special teams performance has cost the Cardinals 3 wins so far this season. (Latest gaffe - Minnesota's 104-yard return of the second half kickoff last Sunday. (Like we keep saying about Carson Palmer: "We just can't keep doing that!")
Well, we can't.
Weems is a legit home-run threat as both kick and punt returner. Ellington and Smokey are equally as dangerous but haven't taken anything to the house thus far. (Note - Smokey took some heat for not fielding a punt and allowing it to roll deep into our territory late vs. the Vikings with the game on the line. Yo, Smoke: You're no longer a rookie; gotta play heads-up all the time).
Key matchups: Weems vs. Cardinal coverage teams.
ATL: Dan Quinn has a Seahawks' pedigree (former DC). In his first season with the Falcs, last year, he opened up with an impressive 5 & 0 record only to suffer a slump and wind up with an 8 - 8 record. Thus far this season, the Falcs are beginning to have many of the earmarks of earlier Seattle teams ("Fast. Physical. Smart"). Falcs are atop the NFC South and very much in the playoff hunt.
AZ: For the second time this season, BA entered the hospital (for "discomfort" - presumably another bout of diverticulitis). Reports are that he's OK and will be on the sidelines in Atlanta Sunday. Last week, his Cardinals managed to shoot themselves in the foot at least twice/maybe more times vs. Minnesota and they still had two or three chances to pull out a "W" - but didn't. (BA's reputation for invincibility has begun to take on heat - with his play calling, talent-evaluation and player-development skills and action under increased scrutiny. He goes up against a well-coached Atlanta team that has the reputation for "not beating itself."
Cards are now 4 -5 - 1 and coming off another gut-wrenching loss. They play a well-coached Atanta team atop the NFC South and coming off a Bye. We'll continue to say it: "The Cardinals, talent-wise, are capable of competing with any team in the NFL." But they're not winning (mainly because their mental game hasn't been as good as their physical one).
Playoffs aren't out of the question, but becoming a fading possibility. But wierd things have been known to happen in an NFL playoff race, and what we hope to see week in and week out is a good, smart, fast, physical effort (hey! we're starting to sound like Dan Quinn) game in and game out.