3TFO: Cardinals @ Falcons, Week 11
After winning their first four games, the Cardinals have fallen back to earth in recent weeks and are on a five-game losing streak. They do have the benefit of being rested after a week off, though they have a record of 1-4 after the bye under Ken Whisenhunt. Arizona also has to travel east to play an Atlanta Falcons team likely seething after losing its first game of the season to a hated division rival.
This should be an interesting game with the Cardinals needing a win to keep their season alive against a Falcons team that remains in perfect position to capture a playoff bye. Here are some matchups to watch.
Falcons’ Rushing Attack
Through nine games, the Falcons have largely struggled rushing the ball, averaging just 3.8 yards per rush on 24 attempts per game. A lot of the problems boil down to the play of Michael Turner, who has fumbled twice while gaining just 3.8 yards, and looks to be reaching the end of his career as an effective NFL running back. Following a 13-carry, 15-yard performance from Turner, look for Atlanta to give more carries to Jacquizz Rodgers. While Rodgers’ yards per carry is even lower than Turner’s, at 3.7, he is at least a threat in the passing game. And the third-year back is eluding tackles at a higher rate — he’s forced a missed tackle once every 5.6 attempts compared to once every 6.3 rushes for his teammate. Rodgers also has the speed to get to the edge and succeed on runs outside the tackles, where Atlanta has averaged a solid 4.6 yards per rush.
The good news for Atlanta is that Arizona has been lackluster against the run this season — though the same thing was said about the Saints prior to their Week 10 game against the Falcons — having given up 4.2 yards per rush. The Cardinals will also potentially be without their top run defender, Calais Campbell, who has been hobbled in practice this week. Whether Campbell plays, and how limited he is if he does, will be huge. The left end’s Run Stop Percentage of 8.8 percent is fifth among all 3-4 defensive ends (who have played 50% of their team’s snaps), while none of his colleagues on the defensive line have graded positively in run defense. If Arizona is able to stop Atlanta on the ground, it will likely be because Daryl Washington is adding to his team-leading stops. Washington just can’t add to his 11 total missed tackles.
Cardinals’ Pass Protection
The struggles of Arizona’s offensive line have been well documented. They rank worst in the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency, having allowed almost 40 more pressures than any other team. On the outside, Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste have been the biggest weakness with 25 sacks and an additional 77 hits and hurries given up between them. The situation could be even more interesting this week, as it appears that rookie Nate Potter will take over at left tackle for Batiste. But judging by his play in limited snaps this season, Potter won’t be much of an upgrade. He’s surrendered six pressures in just 38 snaps in pass protection, a rate of one pressure in roughly every 6.3 snaps pass blocking, which is higher than Batiste’s seven snaps per pressure, albeit in a much smaller sample size. Perhaps a small consolation for the Cardinals is that while the Falcons certainly have a capable pass rush, it’s not among the most fearsome they’ve faced this season.
Atlanta is led by John Abraham and Kroy Biermann on the outside, both of whom have made excellent transitions from pure defensive ends to hybrid-outside linebackers under Mike Nolan. The two have combined for 50 QB disruptions, but in recent weeks haven’t seen much playing time together as the Falcons have been running a lot of three-defensive tackle looks to improve their run defense. They have some talent on the inside, though, with Johnathan Babineaux and Vance Walker both grading positively rushing the passer. Still, look for the Falcons to play Abraham and Biermann together more often after they were on the field at the same time for just 18 snaps against the Saints. And considering Arizona’s inability to run the ball effectively — their running backs are averaging less than 3 yards per carry — the Falcons can afford to play a lighter front four.
Roddy White vs. Patrick Peterson
With Julio Jones limited a week ago against the Saints, the Falcons looked quite often at their other top receiver, Roddy White, targeting him 12 times. With Jones’s status uncertain for this game, look for Matt Ryan to potentially go his way even more. Though the Falcons like to use him in different ways, White lines up most often on the right side of the offense at RWR (~59 percent), where he’ll likely matchup against Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson, who also lines up most often on the right side of the offense at LCB (57 percent versus about 30 percent at RCB).
Peterson is unquestionably the star in Arizona’s secondary and one of the league’s top young corners, having allowed just less than 53 percent of balls thrown in his direction to be caught for an average of 12 yards. He’s given up four touchdowns, but also gets his hands on a lot of balls. With three interceptions and four pass defenses, opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 74.2 throwing at Peterson, less than the league average of 86.9.
White has caught 54 of 78 targets (69 percent) for an average gain of 15.2 yards. Almost half his targets have come in the middle of the field in short and intermediate distances and, as he lines up much more often on that side, his catches outside of the numbers are usually to the right. Ryan and the Falcons like to take shots downfield, too, but expect much more action in the short and intermediate area as only 10 percent of Ryan’s attempts have travelled more than 20 yards in the air, one of the lower figures in the league. And don’t look for any significant yardage after the catch, as Peterson allows only 3.8 YAC per reception, while White gains 3.1 YAC and has forced just four missed tackles — one every 13.5 receptions.