Here’s a look at three keys to victory in order for the Atlanta Falcons to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in their Week 8 road matchup.
Pressure Leads to Turnovers
The Falcons defensive line is coming off its strongest performance of the season, effectively able to control the line of scrimmage last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They got plenty of pressure on Mike Glennon and doing such were able to create an early turnover that led to seven points.
They will have to do much of the same this week against the Cardinals. Carson Palmer has thrown two or more interceptions in each of his last five games, and the Falcons will hope to make it six in a row. The Cardinals defense is one tough nut to crack, and given the Falcons injuries on offense, it will make it even tougher. Creating multiple turnovers can create additional opportunities for the offense to put points on the board.
The best way to create turnovers is to get pressure on the quarterback. That leads to rushed and errant throws, which defenders in the Falcons secondary can capitalize on to make big plays.
The Falcons should see favorable matchups against one of the league’s weakest offensive line. Osi Umenyiora has historically preyed on weak tackles, which the Cardinals sport in left tackle Bradley Sowell. Injury to left guard Daryn Colledge could also lead to backup Nate Potter starting, and the Cardinals also have a weakness at the other guard spot with Paul Fanaika being unexceptional.
Feed Tony Gonzalez
With Roddy White out of the lineup, the Cardinals will likely opt to match up top corner Patrick Peterson on Harry Douglas. Douglas will find it difficult to repeat his success of a week ago (7 catches, 149 yards, 1 touchdown) against Peterson. Thus the Falcons will lean heavily on their other experienced target in tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Cardinals did an excellent job a year ago containing Gonzalez, allowing only 3 catches for 33 yards. They did that predominantly by isolating safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson against Gonzalez.
Things have changed drastically now a year removed. Both Rhodes and Wilson are gone, and the Cardinals have struggled to defend the tight end this season with three opposing tight ends going for over 100 receiving yards each thus far this season. With Peterson likely to be stuck on an island against Douglas, the Cardinals will likely try and bracket Gonzalez with double coverage. That has been what other teams have done to try and limit Gonzalez in recent weeks, and it has been effective at times, but not consistently so. The Falcons will need to find ways of getting the ball to Gonzalez even if he faces double teams. His ability to pluck the ball out of the air is a major asset when it comes to making plays in traffic.
Due to the attention that Gonzalez and Douglas are likely receive from the Cardinals defense, it will also give the Falcons other young receivers opportunities to make plays. Between Darius Johnson, Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, and Levine Toilolo, if one or more could make a couple of drive-sustaining catches, it will be a significant boost to the offense.
Stay Balanced on Offense
Another way the Falcons can be effective at moving the ball on Sunday will be with the ground game. They should see the return of Steven Jackson at running back, who has missed the past five games due to a hamstring injury. If the Falcons can find ways to open holes up against a tough Cardinals front and find lanes for Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, it will go a long way towards a win on Sunday.
The Falcons don’t want to get into a situation where defenders like Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and John Abraham are able to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Despite the line’s progress, it is simply too much to ask them to match up one on one with superior athletes such as what the Cardinals are sporting up front. The easiest way to prevent pass rushers from affecting the quarterback is to prevent them from rushing the passer from the get-go, which involves running the football.
The Falcons have had little success this season on the ground, excluding a strong performance in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins. While it will be difficult to repeat that success this week against the Cardinals, the closer they can get to it, the better their offense will be.