I love to look at the matchups inside every game to determine who has the upper hand. It’s the biggest part of football: whoever wins the games within the game will emerge victorious. Here are the matchups that will make the biggest difference between the Falcons winning and losing:
Arizona Cardinal DEs Darnell Dockett & Calais Campbell vs. Atlanta Falcons interior offensive line- One of the best things that the Arizona defense can do is line up Dockett and Campbell against the interior of an offensive line, and rush the quarterback from the inside. They won’t sent much pressure on the perimeter of the offensive line, but they will let Campbell and Dockett wreak havoc on the inside, and allowing their linebackers to fill. The Falcons must push Campbell and Docket to the outside, keep them matched up with the offensive tackles outside the pocket, and allowing those linemen without assignments to try to block any blitzing linebackers Arizona may bring. If the Falcons can get initial double-teams on Dockett and Campbell, and then work up to the second level, they will have a successful day.
Atlanta Falcons linemen, backs, & TEs picking up Arizona’s blitz- Arizona is a little unconventional, and are allowed to be because they have such unique, athletic, and physical talents in Dockett and Campbell. I already noted the first part of being successful against this defense; in addition, the Falcons must be able to pick up the blitz and protect Matt Ryan in the pocket. Once the linemen are off their double team/chip blocks of the defensive ends, they will have to pick up the blitz. Arizona loves to bring ILB Daryl Washington to pressure the passer, and he’s really good at it. He’s fast, strong, physical, everything you’d want from that position. There isn’t much perimeter pass-rush, but the Falcons will certainly have their hands full with the multiple blitzes Arizona will bring. If they can keep a clean pocket for Ryan, phase II will be complete.
Falcons WRs Julio Jones & Roddy White vs. Cardinal DBs- The Cardinals have one of the elite cover-corner talents in the NFL in Patrick Peterson, but he is still raw and can be beaten at times. They do have two terrific safeties in Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson. I suspect they will be playing two-deep coverage most of the day. So the burden will be even more upon Jones and White to win the battle in the short and intermediate game. If they can do that consistently, it will bring the safeties up, and perhaps allow for a shot or two as the game progresses. Consistent, good work setting up the routes by the receivers will go a long way for continued success for the Falcons passing game.
Falcons run defense vs. Cardinals run game- The Falcons have been really bad against the run this season, giving up 129 yards per game on the ground in 2012. The Cardinals have been woeful running the ball, and are 32nd in the league rushing for 76 yards per game on the ground. The Falcons have to play good, solid run defense against the Cardinals. If they can’t run at all, they will be in even more predictable passing situations, situations where the Falcons can really take advantage of them. If the Falcons allow them to run the ball, there’s a chance Arizona could find a way to keep this game competitive. If no running is allowed (as is expected), this game will swing well into the Falcons’ favor.