The Arizona Cardinals’ defensive struggles with tight ends have been well-documented, and it seemed the Cardinals were likely on their way to another long Sunday against future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and the Atlanta Falcons.
But the Cardinals held Gonzalez to just 26 yards and three catches on eight targets — something that went a long way toward limiting the Falcons to 55 percent passing and holding them without a touchdown until the late stages of the fourth quarter in Arizona’s 27-13 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Opposing tight ends had torched the Cardinals to the tune of six catches and 88 yards per game, and had accounted for eight touchdowns in eight games.
The Cardinals used a mix of cornerback Jerraud Powers, linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby and safeties Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell and Rashad Johnson to slow down the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Gonzalez. In fact, the biggest contribution a Falcons TE made was from Levine Toilolo, who drew a questionable pass interference call in the end zone to wipe out a fourth-and-goal incompletion in the fourth quarter.
Mathieu said the Cardinals were aided by the fact that the Falcons were without their top two receivers in Roddy White and Julio jones.
“Obviously, we knew Matt Ryan was going to target Tony more than he had in their previous games,” Mathieu said. “We just took it as a challenge. Everybody stepped up.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the defense tried to switch up coverage looks in an attempt to pressure Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and keep Gonzalez in check.
Both worked, as Ryan was sacked four times and threw four interceptions.
“It was a team effort … playing with great technique, the line getting pressure,” Dansby said. “We did it together. That’s the only way we can stop or slow down these tight ends.”