The onus for beating the Atlanta Falcons is on Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals offense. Palmer and co. must play better in order for the Cardinals to even their record at 4-4. The offense must possess the ball, move the chains, convert third downs, take time off the clock and, most of all, score touchdowns. Anything less than 27 points might not get it done.
The Falcons are not a paragon of defensive football. They have not played well. Much of the reason for their malaise is found in the man-games that have been missed by some of their best defenders. Their linebacking corps has been seriously depleted by the loss of Sean Weatherspoon and hybrid-linebacker Kroy Biermann. They can get Weatherspoon back later in the season, but Biermann is done for 2013. And Asante Samuel has missed time with a bad quad, has played in four games, made nine tackles and has two passes defended.
The Falcons defense was never going to be the strength of their team, but the man-games missed and their ineffective play is starting to show up in spades -- no matter the metric used, including film.
The Falcons believed they were going to have a high-powered offense capable of scoring points, getting teams into shootouts and making them one-dimensional due to their scoring prowess. Their offense would create leads and their defense would benefit from playing against teams trying to throw the ball in order to get back into the game. The Falcons' pass rush would improve and their secondary would benefit and turnovers would be generated and victories should pile up.
The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, do they not?
The Falcons' pass rush has been anemic. They are having serious difficulty generating a pass rush. They have totaled 14 sacks in six games. There are only six teams in the league that have generated fewer sacks. They are 25th in sacks/attempt allowed. After losing John Abraham, the Falcons believed Osi Umenyiora would be the answer. That has not materialized, although Umenyiora leads the Falcons in sacks with four.
Their secondary has not produced, either. Atlanta is 23rd against the pass and 26th in passing yards/play. Tackling, and the lack thereof, has been a primary issue for Mike Smith's defense and so has coverage. If you're not tackling well, you're probably not creating a lot of fumbles; and if you're not covering well, you're probably not getting your hands on a lot of footballs.
And the Falcons' defense has not generated takeaways anywhere close to the level of expectation. The Falcons have five takeaways on the season: three interceptions and two fumbles recovered. Only three teams in the league have fewer takeaways than Atlanta. Only two teams in the league have fewer interceptions than the Falcons.
Not a lot of teams are running the ball against the Falcons because they're having success with throwing the ball. And when they do run against Atlanta's defense, they give up over four yards/carry (22nd in the league).
Situationally, the metrics aren't good either: They're 30th in third-down defense, yielding a conversion rate of 46 percent. They haven't played great in the red zone (T-21st at 59 percent) either.
The Big Eye in the Sky doesn't lie, but sometimes you need to see the numbers to truly understand and reinforce what you're seeing on tape. And this is the case with Atlanta. Although they have some very good players, injuries and inconsistency has plagued them all year.
Matt Ryan might be having his best year, all things considered, and Steven Jackson is most likely going to play on Sunday. The TE has caused great consternation around the big rectangle in Cardinals defensive meetings. TE Tony Gonzalez is not going to alleviate any of that angst. Roddy White is nursing a hamstring and has not been putting up the numbers one would expect, especially when considering the loss of Julio Jones for the season.
Atlanta's offense can light you up, but in order for Big Red's defense to compete against their talented offense, Carson & co. need to carry their weight. And if they cannot carry their weight at home against a defense that is struggling -- on film and paper -- when can they?
If the answer to that is a question mark and the Cardinals lose to Atlanta and go to 3-5 on the season into a bye week, Cards fans may finally see a Drew Stanton start.