Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons Q&A With SI Falcon Maven Writer Dave Holcomb
TJ: Falcons fans cant be happy with how the season has started out. What has been the biggest reason for the poor start?
DH:There are a lot of issues, but I would place a lot of the blame on the defense -- specifically, the pass rush. The Falcons are tied for last with just 5.0 sacks in the first five weeks.
Over the last two weeks, Atlanta faced two quarterbacks that were among the leaders in sacks taken (Marcus Mariota & Deshaun Watson), and the Falcons recorded zero sacks. The secondary has been suspect as well, and last week, head coach Dan Quinn seemed reluctant to blitz at all. But that's making things worse, as the Falcons defensive line simply can't create any pressure whatsoever.
The offense hasn't been clicking as I predicted before the season, but with the inability to play complimentary football, the offense is being asked to pass too often to erase deficits. Furthermore, Atlanta's dealing with multiple injuries on the offensive line, which has hurt the running attack. The Falcons are ranked fifth-to-last in rushing yards per game and yards per carry.
With the combination of poor defense and running game, the Falcons lead the league with 44.4 passing attempts per game.
DH: Like the Falcons, the Cardinals have one win this season, but I’d imagine the organization and fan base are viewing that one victory a little bit differently than Atlanta is. How would you asset the early part of Arizona’s season?
TJ: That's true Dave. Falcons were considered a playoff team nearly every year with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Their 1-4 season is much different than Cardinals 1 win season.
Arizona started the season with the comeback tie to the Detiot Lions who look to be a decent team this season. They lost a close one to the Ravens by 6 points where they had a chance late in the game for Murray to have a game winning drive. Last week, they got their first win and played well vs the 0-5 Bengals.
I'm sure Cardinals fans would have loved to have 2 or more wins to start this season, but they should be happy with how the team has played in these matches. They have been in most of these contest and been competing with teams with chances to win. Much better than in 2018.
TJ: Matt Ryan is putting up decent numbers this year but most have come in the 2nd halves of games when the team is trailing, why are the Falcons starting games slow?
DH: It's the question that's getting asked around here repeatedly in part because there simply isn't a great answer. In Week 1, the Falcons experienced a perfect storm playing in front of a hostile crowd at Minnesota. In Week 3, I thought they came out flat after a very emotional win on Sunday Night Football during the home opener. But there's no reason to give up multiple touchdown passes to Mariota at home during Week 4. The Titans barely scored at all on the road in their next game against Buffalo.
The Falcons were better in the first half last week, but then played terribly out of halftime, giving up 21 points in the third quarter. Quinn has been outcoached to start games and at the beginning of second halves.
DH: Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s offense have shown flashes of brilliance and a lot of growing pains at other times. What offensive takeaways do you have from the first five weeks?
TJ: Kingsbury's Air Raid offense looks good between the 20s and when Kyler Murray is protected and has time to throw. Cardinals haven't had problems moving the ball and getting air yards. He has throw the most and has the most yards by any rookie through 5 weeks.
The problem has been when Cardinals have gotten into the redzone. They have had to settle too many times for field goals and also have several turnovers when spacing get more compact in the redzone.
TJ: What should Cardinal fans be most worried about with the matchup this Sunday?
DH: I think I would say matching up against Julio Jones and defending tight end Austin Hooper. From what I've seen of the Cardinals, they haven't been very good at covering top receivers or elite tight ends.
Hooper actually leads the Falcons in receptions and receiving yards. He needs to continue to be involved in the passing game because right now, the Falcons aren't going to win a game where they don't score at least 30 points.
Jones is always a matchup problem, and the last two weeks, he's been relatively quiet. That's probably what should concern Cardinals fans the most. It's hard to see Jones post under 60 receiving yards a third straight week.
DH: What matchup advantages do the Cardinals possess against the Falcons?
Last week, the Falcons gave up 592 yards of total offense to the Texans, allowing Houston’s QB Deshawn Watson to end his day 28 of 33, 5 TD’s, zero sacks and a perfect QB rating (158.3). They also gave up 46 points to Houston’s offense, allowed the Texans to convert 77% of their third downs and add points to the board in 8 of their 10 drives.
Falcons have given up the 2nd most points per game (30.4) in the league; only behind the 0-5 Miami Dolphins who are giving up 40.8 per game. Cardinals should be able to move the ball well in this matchup. It will just depend on how well Arizona can execute in the redzone instead of settling for field goals.
TJ: What about the Cardinals is going to be a problem for Falcons in this game?
DH: I would say getting pressure on Kyler Murray. Even if the Falcons win individual matchups against the Cardinals offensive line, Murray is so athletic that I wouldn't be surprise if he consistently eludes the rush with his legs. What the Falcons are learning this season is that if you give any quarterback in this league a clean pocket or the opportunity to buy extra time, they will rip apart zone coverage.
Watson, Mariota and Jacoby Brissett all had their best game of the season (through five weeks) against the Falcons.
The other concern for me is protecting Matt Ryan. The Cardinals defense is 16th in sacks, but they have some seasoned pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs. They have the advantage against the battered Falcons offensive line, especially if Atlanta falls behind or can't establish a running game yet again.
DH: How does the Cardinals defense solve its problem covering tight ends while also slowing down Julio Jones? Who will be primarily assigned to covering Jones on Sunday?
TJ: This is definitely Cardinals biggest concern in this game. There is no stopping Julio Jones. The best they can hope for is slowing him down so it doesn't take the game over.
Cardinals defenses hasn't been great this year. They are currently giving up 408 yards (28th) and 27.6 points (27th) per game which are both near the bottom in the league.
Arizona did slow down Cincinnati's TEs last week limiting Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert to only two receptions for 14 yards, making Sunday’s game the first one of the season where the Cardinals did not allow a touchdown by a tight end. Not only have the Cardinals lead the league in allowing the most points by tight ends, but they’ve allowed three 100-yard rushers in the last three games.
TJ: What's your game predictions for the Falcons Cardinals matchup?
DH: The Falcons are a team that have a lot of talent on paper, so when I've made game predictions this year, I've expected more from them. But at some point, they are what they are.
The Falcons are a fragile team right now. They can't rush the passer or cover long enough to help the pass rush. Even more concerning is the fact defensive "guru" Dan Quinn has shown the inability to make defensive adjustments to generate a pass rush.
The only thing Atlanta is doing well at the moment is the passing game, which is strained because it has to carry the team with an unhealthy offensive line.
I'm going to pick the Falcons to win a barnburner because if this team doesn't respond and play on behalf of its coach, which many fans are calling to be fired, and give its very best effort, then things are going to get ugly in Atlanta.
Having said that, I won't at all be surprised if Murray has a terrific game with the Falcons defense again failing to post enough stops.
Falcons 38, Cardinals 35
DH: What’s your game predictions for the Falcons-Cardinals matchup?
TJ: I see these teams fairly similar. Both will rely on their pass offense to win them the game. Julio is better than any skill player Arizona has right now. The biggest difference might be Cardinals edge rushers, Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs who have both played well this season. If they can after Ryan, it could swing the outcome of the game.
This game might be decide by which team has the ball in their hands last allow their team to take the lead late in the game. With both teams craving their 2nd win this will be a competitive matchup. With Cardinals playing at home and with the advantage on the passrush. I'm going with Cardinals with the upset. Cardinals 34, Falcons 27