The Falcons face a desperate Cardinals team, so how must Atlanta approach week 12? The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about the game plan for Sunday.
Here are 5 things to mull over before today’s 1 p.m. kickoff between the Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) and the Atlanta Falcons (6-4) at the Georgia Dome.
1. TALE OF THE TAPE: Here’s how the Falcons and the Cardinals stack up statistically.
Cardinals WR John Brown vs. Falcons CB Robert Alford: The Cardinals will lean on their run game, but they really want to hit the speedy Brown on some deep passes. Brown has 30 catches for 380 yards and one touchdowns. Alford must maintain his coverage, don’t grab the receiver and make a play for the ball while in deep coverage. Alford has been called for six defensive pass interference calls this season.
Cardinals LB/SS Deone Bucannon vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman: Bucannon is one the hybrid safety/linebackers that teams are using to combat all of the passing formations. Bucannon has 57 tackles, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. Freeman must find the hard-hitting Bucannon if he gets through the line of scrimmage and to the second level. Because of Bucannon’s sure tackling, the Cardinals do not let out a lot of explosive running plays.
Cardinals LBs Chandler Jones and Markus Golden vs. Falcons pass blocking: Jones leads the Cardinals with eight sacks and Golden, a second-round pick in 2015, has six sacks. They pace a defense that has 31 sacks. Left tackle Jake Matthews will likely see Jones the most. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder will have Golden. Both have been strong in pass protection, but may get some help periodically from tight end Levine Toilolo and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who started the week on Monday working on picking up linebackers with running backs coach Bobby Turner.
4. Peterson vs. Jones II. The Cardinals’ defense is led by linebacker Kevin Minter and three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who made the mistake of calling out Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones before their last meeting in 2014.
In the days before the game Peterson said he’d gotten the best of Jones when they faced each other in college (Peterson at LSU vs. Jones at Alabama) and also in their one previous NFL matchup. Jones countered that his teams beat Peterson three out of four times.
Jones’ response: 10 catches (on 12 targets) for a then career-high 189 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 29-18 victory. Unofficially, eight of those for 165 yards came with Peterson in coverage.
5. Ryan anticipating major battle. The last time the Falcons faced the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Matt Ryan picked apart one of the NFL’s top secondaries, completing 30 of 41 passes for 361 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “The two games prior to that, I threw like nine interceptions against Arizona,” Ryan said. “It’s a week-to-week league.” Coming off the bye, the Falcons get a chance to prove Sunday just how good the NFL’s highest scoring offense is against the Cardinals, the No. 1 defense in the league.
GAME NINE: Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28
GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT
GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24