The Arizona Cardinals are looking to get back to back victories for the first time since the last two weeks of the 2017 season. On Sunday the Cardinals welcome the Atlanta Falcons to State Farm stadium. Both teams enter Sunday with a single win but are in drastically different situations. Today we take a look at the matchup between the Cardinals and Falcons and figure out what needs to happen for the Red Sea to celebrate a victory.
The Cardinals and Falcons are both searching for win number two. Both teams feature avian-themed mascons. The similarities end there. Atlanta is three seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl. In the wake of the historic collapse, Atlanta lost their offensive coordinator to the San Francisco 49ers and lost their best chance at a championship. In the subsequent months, the Falcons have been underwhelming in all facets of the game. Atlanta head coach, Dan Quinn, seems to be perennially on the hot seat. It would not be surprising if he’s let go by season’s end.
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By contrast, the Cardinals have a first-year head coach who is attempting to bring the team back from the brink of death. Kliff Kingsbury‘s offense has shown glimpses of what it could be in the near future. While Quinn seems to be desperate to keep his team moving forward, the Arizona roster seems like a group beginning to buy into what Kingsbury is offering. The Cardinals have been close in a couple of their games, the loss in Baltimore and the tie to open the season against Detroit. The offense’s red zone woes were ultimately too much to overcome in those two games. However, the Cardinals look to have turned the corner with their victory last week in Cincinnati. Kingsbury is on the upswing. Quinn is left looking over his shoulder for the boot out of Atlanta.
Cleared for Takeoff
Sunday’s game features a pair of dynamic quarterbacks in Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Arizona’s Kyler Murray. Ryan is in his 12th season in the NFL after being selected in the first round of the 2008 draft. Throughout his career, Ryan has been successful yet is not the flashiest player at his position. Over the last nine years, Ryan has not thrown for less than 4,000 yards in a season. Ryan is the conductor of the Atlanta offense and has a pair of receivers widely considered among the best tandems in the league. Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones are both playmaking receivers who have the potential to take over games. Jones is perhaps the most talented wide receiver in the NFL while Ridley is becoming one of the top pass catchers as well.
On the other sideline sits Murray, a rookie quarterback who is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Murray’s comfort level in the offense is growing with each passing game. The Cardinals offense is coming off a 514-yard effort against the Bengals last Sunday. Atlanta’s defense is arguably worse than what Cincinnati lined up last week. Murray lacks the weapons afforded to Ryan. However, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are both dangerous in their own right. Arizona’s air attack has the potential to run laps on the Falcons’ defense. If the line can continue its improved play, Murray will find open receivers running through the secondary.
Keep the Momentum
Since the start of the season, the Arizona defense has maintained consistent improvement. Opposing ground games have collected fewer yards each game. Keeping the trend against Atlanta all but ensures a victory on Sunday. The Falcons attack defenses vertically. Atlanta would love to have a functional ground attack but running back Devonta Freeman has yet to get on track. Due to early deficits and poor line play, Freeman has just a single game with 15 or more carries. Through the team’s first five games, Freeman has gone over 30 yards rushing just once, an 88-yard performance against the Colts. It was during that game where he carried the football 16 times.
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Arizona’s defense has struggled to stop the run for the better part of two years. While the unit has improved this season, the Cardinals are the sixth-worst defense against the run. On the year, Arizona is surrendering an average of 138.8 yards rushing per game. The Cardinals have the talent to cause issues against a suspect Atlanta line. Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Haason Reddick will be the key to keeping a lid on Freeman and the Atlanta ground game. The safeties will be preoccupied with Jones and Ridley on the outside, likely leaving just six or seven in the box. A returning Zach Allen provides a boost on the defensive line. The game will be won in the trenches and the Cardinals have the talent to take over.
Protect the Nest
The Cardinals are in a position to win back to back games for the first time since 2017, the final year of Bruce Arians’ tenure. Kyler Murray and the offense may have found their spark against the Bengals. It may also have just been a result of an inferior opponent. On paper, Atlanta has the better roster than what Cincinnati put on the field a week ago. However, the Falcons are reeling after a blowout loss last week. The Cardinals have the momentum and the home-field advantage on Sunday. A solid start will get the crowd roaring and boost a young Cardinals team. It will be tough but the Cardinals should come away with the victory.
Prediction: Cardinals win, 31-17