With their talented defense in full ‘fly around the field’ mode, a sizable first-half lead was more than enough to keep the Arizona Cardinals comfortably in front of the Atlanta Falcons through the end of this Week 8 contest. Matt Ryan will be happy not to see Arizona again as he posted his second low mark against them in two years, bringing his interception total to nine in those two games.
At 2-5, Atlanta’s flickering hope for this season is all but extinguished, but the 4-4 Cardinals see themselves within reach of the NFC West division powers. They’ve got hopes of staying within striking distance as head-to-head matchups with Seattle and San Francisco are on tap in the season’s final two weeks.
Despite this game spiraling into an uneven affair, there were good and bad to be seen from both sides and here are a selection of the notable individual performances:
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Ryan Under Fire
In his worst-graded effort since facing Arizona last season, Matt Ryan (-4.4) dropped back 66 times while trying to bring his Falcons back. A 3-0 first-quarter Atlanta lead was quickly turned into a 21-6 deficit by the half and Ryan was left to sling away the rest of the game at a defense holding no concern for anything but his throws aimed at a depleted receiving corps. With all mystery removed, Arizona’s defense was free to come after him, blitzing on 28 pass plays that helped Ryan to three of his four interceptions. The 38 non-blitzed drop-backs proved no cakewalk either, as the Falcon QB completed 18 passes for just 126 yards and a PFF grade of -4.7 on those attempts.
Erasing Tony G
Opting to cover tight end Tony Gonzalez with bracketed defenders for much of the game, Arizona challenged the notion that even when covered the future Hall of Famer was open. The added attention led to Gonzalez finishing with three catches on eight targets and largely kept him from being a factor at any point (-0.2 receiving). Even when operating without the doubled opposition, Gonzalez found the going rough, particularly when Cardinal linebacker Daryl Washington latched on.
One play in particular, Q3 3:57, showed both the frustrations from Gonzo’s side and the determined will of Washington and the Arizona D. A seam pass that we’ve seen completed countless times in the past was placed well by Ryan, just above the turned head of Washington and in prime location for the tight-space, jump-ball expert Gonzalez to snag. Securing it momentarily, Gonzalez found it ripped away as he and Washington crashed to the ground, the sure thing proven unsure on a day where other weapons weren’t enough.
Slicing through Arizona blockers to make plays along the line and in the backfield, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux put up his highest grade of the season – and tops since mid-way through 2011 — on the strength of positives in both run defense and as a pass rusher. Showing no favoritism, Babineaux’s day was a selection of work distributed against the Sendlein-Fanaika part of the Cardinal interior with some reserved for part-timer Nate Potter as well. His sack and trio of pressures (one wiped away by penalty), played support to the damage he did against the run, an effort highlighted by a gashing forced fumble and TFL at the 8:12 mark of the third quarter.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Campbell Too Much to Handle
When I last wrote of Arizona’s defense, Calais Campbell had just made himself a standout by taking apart the Carolina O-line. This time he’s earned a ReFocused section having done much of the same against Atlanta’s left side, though much more of it was work against the run this time out. Falcon left tackle Lamar Holmes was simply unable to keep Campbell at bay, allowing penetration past on a path to the runner on a pace seemingly dictated by Campbell’s will. Plays like that at 11:55 of the second quarter – darting through the inside shoulder of Holmes and then around behind to corral RB Steven Jackson before he could get going — made it clear his power and quickness combo was too much to handle.
As one-sided a win as this was, there were points along the Arizona O-line that showed less-than favorably; the run blocking of center Lyle Sendlein (-1.5 run blocking) and right guard Paul Fanaika (-3.4 run blocking) being central to that idea. As mentioned above, the matter of dealing with Babineaux was a significant factor, but Atlanta DTs Corey Peters and Peria Jerry also found success, though their impact against the Cardinal interior was somewhat lesser. The group of defenders logged seven run stops and made the A-gaps an unfriendly environment, allowing just 6 yards on four runs through those holes. For added measure, all three DTs picked up sacks as well.
Keeping Palmer Clean
As has been his trend this season (and in years past), Carson Palmer’s level of play falls off greatly in the face of pressure – it was no different against Atlanta. Pressured on eight of 22 drop-backs, Palmer’s grade fell to -1.4 with defenders closing when he otherwise posted a +2.4 passing day. On those pressured snaps, Palmer completed three of the five passes he got off, took three sacks and threw his only interception. On the season, just one of his 10 touchdown passes has come with pressure on and he sees a +6.7/-9.4 grading differential. A drop in numbers when pressured is nothing unusual, but considering Palmer has faced pressure on over 41% of his drop-backs in 2013 (fifth-most in the league), it becomes a legit concern. The Arizona O-line is dead last in Pass Blocking Efficiency as a group on the season, though their effort in Week 8 came in among the week’s 10 best. Building on that will go a long way toward helping their chances of doing damage in the season’s second half.
- Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers was targeted 17 times to Patrick Peterson’s five. Powers allowed 10 catches (and saw two balls dropped), with six going for first downs.
- The Atlanta O-line was charged with 21 total pressures allowed, second-most in the league this week. Considering that work was on 66 drop-backs, their PBE number rated better than that of seven teams.
- 78% of Andre Ellington’s rushing yards came on his three runs of 15+ yards (121 of 154).
PFF Game Ball
Though his defensive mate Daryl Washington made it a race, Calais Campbell was the day’s top performer and gets the nod.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick