Despite facing former MVPs Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers during the first nine games of the 2012-2013 season, one thing is clear coming out of the bye week for the Arizona Cardinals defense: it doesn't get any easier.
Sunday, they are set to face Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Although the four-year pro might not be considered among the elite passers in the league today with the likes of Brady, Rodgers and the Manning brothers, his numbers so far this season have been staggering.
Through nine games, Ryan has thrown for 2,771 yards (second-best in the NFL) and 20 touchdowns (fourth-best in the NFL). He is also completing 68.4 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 102.6 (fourth-best in the NFL).
After watching film of the former Boston College star over the past few days, the Cardinals are certainly not taking Ryan lightly.
"Matt Ryan is playing at an MVP level right now," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We know that Atlanta likes to jump out early on teams at home, and they are an explosive team. For us, we have to be on our A-game from the beginning."
Ryan -- who is coming off a season-high 411 passing yards in a loss to the New Orleans Saints -- has only turned the ball over eight times this season, but in order for Arizona's defense to get comfortable inside the Georgia Dome, Rhodes believes they need to make him uncomfortable by forcing a big play sooner rather than later in the contest.
"If we can play well from the beginning, and the defense can force a three-and-out or a turnover, our offense can go down and score points early," said Rhodes. "From that point on, we'll roll pretty much."
While Rhodes' best laid plans seem simple enough, in their four wins this season, however, the Cardinals have only forced two first quarter turnovers.
On the flip side, in two career starts against Arizona, Ryan has thrown for 424 yards to go along with five touchdowns and two interceptions.