Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals will face an enigma of a test in their sixth game of the season. The Falcons scored 32 points in their last outing and still lost by 21. Their offense has underperformed at times while their defense has consistently underperformed.
Meanwhile, Arizona walks into this week's tilt with a hint of swagger, having just bested the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday. Kyler Murray, who accrued well over 300 all-purpose yards and scored on a six-yard scamper, is showing improvement from week to week. The defense also showed toughness and discipline, though those last two Bengals drives certainly left a bad taste in their mouth. Chandler Jones and company will be looking to make some plays against what can be a stellar offensive unit at times.
With so many interesting players to watch this Sunday. From Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson (if he plays after injuring his back during last week's game), Chase Edmonds, and of course, Kyler Murray- let's get into some bold predictions for the game today.
1. Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones will combine for 300 yards receiving.
Most casual fans will tell you the Falcons defense is bad. Injuries play a part- neither Desmond Trufant nor Keanu Neal, two key players in Atlanta's secondary, will take the field for this game (and Neal is out for the season).
They have talent at every level, but somehow it hasn't come together: the Falcons are allowing 30 points, 250 and 120 yards per game (passing and rushing, respectively). They aren't Dolphins level bad. Statistically, they're about as bad as... well, the Cardinals defense.
The football gods deemed fit for this to be our last game without Patrick Peterson- and the Matt Ryan/Julio Jones connection isn't something I need to tell you about. Cardinals starter Byron Murphy Jr. has been serviceable in coverage for a rookie, but is still allowing too many big plays. Whether Larry goes for 100 and Julio 200, or 150 apiece, we're in for a great offensive show with defenses like these.
2. Kyler Murray will throw for over 350 yards and three touchdowns.
As mentioned above, the Falcons have been hit by injuries to some key players on defense. I think it's safe to say Kyler Murray has a chance to have his best game as a pro. The Cardinals' receiving corps has performed surprisingly well thus far this year, and Kliff Kingsbury's playcalling has seemingly steadied with each game (last game the Cards ran 38 times, and passed 32- air raid indeed!).
But the real key here is Kyler Murray. He's not going to be as well protected as Deshaun Watson was last week, but I still expect him to take a few shots downfield if the pocket stays clean (or if he buys time with a signature scramble). I think one of the rookies (Keesean Johnson or Andy Isabella, if he sees any snaps) could have a breakout game against this struggling Atlanta defense.
3. The Cardinals will score their highest point total this season.
If you follow the team, there's a good chance you know about the Cards' woes in the red zone. They've settled for field goals an unsettling amount of times in goal-to-go situations. If the Cardinals receivers can create space against an Atlanta defense averaging a full yard more given up per play compared to the 2018 Falcons, there's a good chance we'll see some of those short-yardage passing plays turn into scores.
Converting in the red zone is the key for the Cards in this game. I think Kliff Kingsbury will dial up something unexpected to remedy this. I think they make it there five times, and 4 times they walk away with a touchdown. I'll add a field goal out of the red zone to bring my prediction for the Cards' score to 34 points, which would be their highest total since hanging 38 on the Buccaneers early in 2017.
4. The Cardinals' offensive line trends upwards.
This may be the boldest prediction of them all. The Falcons defense didn't get a sack last week, allowing Deshaun Watson to shred them to the tune of over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns. I think this trend continues. Kyler Murray excelled last week in getting the ball out quickly or throwing it away on dead plays- and with his legs, he can often escape would-be sacks and pressures. That combined with a Falcons pass rush that has regressed from an already poor 2018 campaign will allow the Cards' big men up front to keep Kyler Murray upright all game.
5. The Cardinals will get their first interception of 2019.
The Cardinals secondary has struggled. Anyone who has watched the games knows that. There are playmakers on defense, but anyone not named Chandler Jones has struggled to generate turnovers. That changes this game- second round pick Byron Murphy Jr. will snag an errant Matt Ryan throw. The first interception of his career will also be the Cardinals' first of 2019. As a bonus, I think the Cardinals' pass rush generates 3 sacks this game, with Chandler having one and then going back for seconds. The other sack might come from veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Now, for my prediction for the end score of the game. I think the Cardinals win in a shootout, 34-33. It's a rebuilding season, but this Arizona team is still quite dangerous if it gets into a rhythm. Soon we'll find out which win-needy team will come out on top.
Need more Cardinals content? Check out this analysis of where Kyler Murray ranks amongst quarterbacks taken first overall in the past decade.