After getting their second win of the season against Tampa Bay, Atlanta is looking to add another on the road in Phoenix. Last Season, Matt Ryan had his worst game as a pro against Arizona, throwing 5-ints in a sloppy 23-19 victory. Luckily, Steven Jackson will return after suffering a hamstring injury in week 2. Jackson’s presence and skill-set will be needed to take pressure off Matt Ryan as he’s faces a turnover-inducing defense headlined by Patrick Peterson.
Steven Jackson, the Falcons’ prized free agent signee, returned to practice Wednesday in preparation for the upcoming game against the Arizona Cardinals (4:25 ET, Fox and you can find Falcons vs. Cardinals tickets here). Due to the fact his hamstring still isn’t 100%, his participation will be limited and his workload will be light. Still, Jackson has to be excited that he’ll be able to play this Sunday after missing 4 games.
“The leg is feeling a lot better,” said Jackson. “I’ve seen the doctor more times than I’d like to, and finally he and I are on the same page. It’s been encouraging enough, the progress I’ve made, to give it a go.”
Unfortunately, Jackson will have his work cut out for him as he will face an Arizona defense that ranks 7th in the league in stopping the run, much improved from their 28th ranking in 2012. Many fans are hoping Jackson can repeat his 139-yard performance he had as a Ram vs. Arizona. Whatever the case, we can only hope whatever he contributes helps the offense fair better than the 1-yard per carry performance against Tampa Bay. If Mike Smith and Co. doesn’t want a repeat of 2012 (5-interceptions by Matt Ryan) they better have a balanced game plan. I don’t think the Falcons can overcome another performance like that . Plus, if they want to keep their slim playoff ambitions alive they have to get this victory on the road.
“We can’t afford to lose too many more games around here, it’s no secret” said TE Tony Gonzalez. “If we want to get to where we want to go, we got to put it together. We got to get it on the road now.”
The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a 34-22 loss against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football. Despite dominating the game early on, the Seahawks only lead 17-10 going into the half. While the Cardinal defense is one of the best in the NFL, the inconsistent play of QB Carson Palmer and the O-line (13 ints, 20 sacks) has plagued them. The Falcons defense on the other hand, has been known to make even mediocre QB’s look like perennial Pro-Bowlers. Don’t forget that this is the same QB that almost lead a terrible Oakland team to victory in the Dome, passing for 353 yards and 1 touchdown. With weapons like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who’s beginning to emerge as a solid #2, this offense is very well capable of moving the ball through the air.
If the Falcons want to win this game, the defense will have to rattle Palmer early. He’s turnover prone and the longer we keep Arizona’s defense on the field the better the outcome for Atlanta. Speaking of Arizona’s defense, I don’t expect Atlanta to move the ball up-and-down the field as smoothly as the did vs Tampa Bay. I repeat, Matt Ryan threw not one, two, or three but FIVE interceptions against this defense last year. I’m sure Ryan will look to redeem himself this Sunday.
“Defensively, they caused a lot of problems for us last year,” said Ryan. “That’s something we’ll try to learn from. Obviously, we watched the tape. This is a good defense and they match up well.”
While he was only sacked once, the Cardinals were in Ryan’s face most of the game. Right now, Arizona is in the top half of the league with 19 sacks. They love to blitz and the pressure can come from anywhere (5 players with at least two sacks). John Abraham, who was cut by Atlanta in the offseason, was picked up by Arizona July 25 and is coming along well. Last Thursday vs. Seattle, he sacked Russell Wilson twice and forced two fumbles. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians was certainly satisfied with how he played.
“He’s been really close on about six or seven other occasions, ” said Arians. “He’s got that perfect swat when he gets near the ball. John has been playing extremely well for us.”
Fans in Atlanta are very familiar with Abraham’s ability. Many argued that the Falcons shouldn’t have let him go. Abraham wanted to finish his career with Atlanta but was cut to make room for Ryan’s $104 mil. contract.
“I got cut, so it was like I didn’t feel that I was wanted,” said Abraham. “I got cut. It was kind of obvious.”
John Abraham will continue to pay dividends with this defense. He along with Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Sam Acho have the ablity to wreak havoc in an opponents backfield. With Sam Baker retuning, I can’t say that I’m not a little concerned for Matt Ryan’s safety.
Not only is this a defense that can get pressure, they can also force turnovers (8 ints, 7 forced fumbles). Patrick Peterson is beginning to emerge as a shutdown corner while Yeremiah Bell and rookie Tyrann Mathieu can make a few plays given the chance. This defense has talent on all three levels (DL, LB, DB) and will look to wreak havoc on Atlanta’s depleted offense.
On another note, while the run game for Arizona has been pretty lackluster overall, rookie RB Andre Ellington has been making the most of his touches (6.4 ypc). I’m sure head coach Bruce Arians will try to feature him more come this Sunday since FA signee Rashad Mendenhall hasn’t panned out so far.
Overall, this is an Arizona team looking to avenge their loss from last Thursday in front of their home crowd. Their talent on the defensive side can and has caused problems for QB’s, but their offense is turnover prone and struggles to putting points on the board…The Atlanta defense needs to do their part and keep it that way. If they can do that and protect Matt Ryan, fans should like Atlanta’s chances.
*Quotes courtsey of the AJC and Atlanta Falcons.com