ReFo: Cardinals @ Falcons, Week 11
At times Sunday (many times) it appeared no one wanted to win, but the Falcons made enough plays at the end to outlast the Cardinals 23-19. For Atlanta it was turnovers, for the Cardinals it was yardage. The Cardinals were outgained by almost 200 yards but managed to actually outscore the Falcons’ offense 19-16 thanks to 13 points off turnovers.
The Falcons advance to 9-1 on the season, but it has felt like a wild roller coaster in Atlanta as six of their past seven seven games have been decided by 7 points or less. Arizona’s season has drawn parallels to a roller coaster as well, with their early climb and steady free fall since. Sunday marked the sixth straight loss for a team that started 4-0.
In a game where there were many notable performances — good and bad — here are six that stood out:
Arizona — Three Performances of Note
It’s hard to blame Ken Whisenhunt for saying enough is enough halfway through the second quarter and pulling John Skelton in favor of rookie Ryan Lindley. Skelton had managed to miss four open receivers within 10 yards and then completely blow a pass to a wide open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone. On only seven attempts Skelton achieved a grade of -2.8. Unfortunately for Arizona, Lindley was not the answer and the move may have cost the Cardinals the game. Only three plays into Lindley’s professional career he made the biggest mistake of the game, fumbling away a touchdown to Jonathan Babineaux on something of a freak play. It didn’t get much better from there as he completed only nine of 20 passes for 64 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling was the offense — logging almost twice as many rushing yards as the quarterbacks combined for total yards passing; the two only completed one pass that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. The stats can go on and on as this was truly one of the worst passing performances of the year.
Tough up the Middle
Paris Lenon has been one of the more criticized players here at PFF the past season and a half, but you’ll find no criticism of his performance on Sunday. Lenon (20.8 Run Stop Percentage on the day) teamed up with Daryl Washington in the middle of the Arizona defense to completely shut down the Atlanta rushing attack. The Falcons gained only 58 yards on 24 carries and much of this ineptitude can be attributed to the play of the Cardinals’ inside linebackers. The duo teamed up for 10 total stops and 20 combined tackles (not to mention five hurries). When the Cardinals’ defense gets production opposite Washington, they are a very tough team to run on.
No Answer on the Blind Side
It is not realistic to expect a third-string rookie tackle to shut down the player sitting at No. 15 on the league’s all-time sack list. So, it was quite admirable for Nate Potter to give up only two sacks and a hit… especially considering D’Anthony Batiste hadn’t had a game with less than five total pressures all year. That being said, where can the Cardinals turn now? Potter is obviously inexperienced and only a seventh-round pick. Kevin Kolb may not be the ultimate answer at quarterback, but it’s impossible to tell with the type of pressure he has faced. Look for some picks in April to address this situation as it is turning into a black eye on a team that is only a couple pieces away from the playoffs.
Atlanta — Three Performances of Note
A Win is a Win
Matt Ryan and the Falcons came away with the win, but boy was it ugly. Ryan threw a career-high five interceptions and had another easy pick dropped. To be fair, three interceptions came off tipped balls with one bouncing out of Roddy White’s hands and two more being tipped at the line, but it was clear the Cards’ D had Ryan off his game. Despite his three first-quarter picks, Dirk Koetter let Ryan continue to heave, calling 48 pass plays to only 26 runs. When Ryan faced pressure he absolutely crumbled, going 2 of 11 with two interceptions and only 16 yards. In what was easily his worst game all year, with a grade of -2.9, he still stepped up when the chips were down, leading a seven-play 70-yard drive in what will be remembered as just another win for the Falcons come the end of the season.
Return to Form
You would be hard pressed to find a more consistent right tackle the past three seasons than Tyson Clabo. That is until 2012, where he has already produced five negatively-graded games against just four on the positive side going into Sunday. His performance against outside linebackers Quentin Groves and Reggie Walker, though, was classic Clabo — no pressures and road grader run blocking. The Falcons gained 37 of their 58 rushing yards on nine carries behind Clabo, compared to 1.4 yards per carry elsewhere. So far this season Sam Baker’s improvement had made Clabo’s play bearable, but Sunday proved that he can still play at the highest level, albeit against questionable competition.
Saying this performance was aided by going up against a third-string tackle doesn’t do justice to the play of John Abraham. This year Abraham has transitioned into a stand-up rusher and so far the transition had been a bit rocky. Since the Week 7 bye he has had his hand down on only 12 plays and had generated only six hurries and a sack in those three games. On Sunday he excelled, creating four hurries to go with two sacks and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown when the Falcons were unable to generate any offense. It was Abraham who alerted the rest of the Falcons’ defense to the live ball that he swatted out of the quarterback’s hand when everybody had assumed an incompletion and had stopped playing. That score ended up being the difference in the game. Abraham also made four stops against the run in a rare complete game for the pass-rushing expert. It was one of those days where you just keep hearing his name and he certainly changed the game.
– Jacquizz Rodgers had more snaps than Michael Turner for the second time this season.
– Roddy White had his second-highest yardage total of the season, yet graded to by far his lowest grade at -2.4
– Adrian Wilson played only 41/74 snaps (had missed only two all season besides injury) and was used in a safety rotation with Reshad Johnson and James Sanders.
Jonathan Abraham made the play of the game and followed that up with consistent play against the run and the pass. On a day where the offense tried to give it away, the Falcons’ defense won this one.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner