Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals try to salvage road win against Falcons
The Arizona Cardinals’ best chance at winning another football game this season likely comes Sunday on the road against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons have dropped five games in a row and have lost to sub-.500 teams like the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers during that time.
They sit at 4-9 after last week’s 34-20 loss to the Packers, compared to the Cardinals’ 3-10 record.
Even so, the star power remains for the NFC South’s bottom feeder.
Wide receiver Julio Jones has over 1,400 receiving yards while quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns compared to six interceptions.
Here’s more of what’s happening in Atlanta before the Cardinals and Falcons play in the latter’s final home game of the season.
Saturday, December 15
• Falcons vs. Cardinals: One reason to worry, one reason to feel confident (The Falcoholic)
The Falcons have one of the league’s worst pass defenses, but the Cardinals have a 1970s air assault. Something will have to give, but for once, I don’t think it’ll be Atlanta’s D.
On the other hand, the Falcons’ passing attack has gone completely in the tank.
The Falcons should win this. When you put their roster side-by-side with Arizona, there’s only a small handful of spots where the Cardinals are actually more talented.
The Falcons are just underachieving at an impressive level, having made a series of boneheaded in-game decisions and errors of execution that somehow are even worse than a year ago.
If they can get their stuff together, even slightly, they should be favorites here.
Friday, December 14
• Ito Smith getting a bigger piece of Falcons’ pie (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Ito Smith came out to chat the other day, which was a little different, and he sounded different, as if he fit and as if the Falcons’ rookie running back is getting up to speed.
He carried the football 11 times for 60 yards Sunday at Green Bay, to lead the Falcons in rushing, and caught three passes for another 14 yards.
• Arthur Blank issues statement on passing of Falcons great Bill Fralic (AtlantaFalcons.com)
Former Falcons offensive lineman Bill Fralic passed away at the age of 56 on Thursday after a battle with cancer, according to a release by the University of Pittsburgh athletic department.
Fralic was selected by the Falcons with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, and he went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, including eight with the Falcons. During his time in Atlanta, Fralic was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was a two-time All-Pro.
• Quinn gives update on Devonta Freeman: ‘We are not there yet’ (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
After the Falcons practice on Friday, running back Devonta Freeman and head coach Dan Quinn had their weekly meeting on his recovering from sports hernia surgery.
“It was our Friday check-in,” Quinn said. “We meet on Fridays and see where the progress is and how he’s progressing….I just want to get an update to see where he’s at.”
Thursday, December 13
• Grady Jarrett is model of consistency and endurance (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
In a Falcons season that’s gone every which way but right, there has been perhaps one thing certain: Grady Jarrett’s going to be there. He’s going to play ball the way he’s supposed to, and there’s just about no chance of him puffing his chest in high moments or freaking out in lows.
• Julio Jones sent home with flu-like symptoms (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was sent home from the facility with flu-like symptoms on Thursday.
“Julio was sent home sick today,” coach Dan Quinn said. “We fully expect him to be back tomorrow and get going for Sunday.”
Jones will be ready to play against the Cardinals at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Following the pro days, Oluokun said he was unsure if he would get drafted. He and his agent were looking at teams he could sign with as an undrafted free agent – one of them being the Falcons.
Fastforward to draft weekend, the Falcons selected Oluokun in the sixth round as the 200th-overall pick.
At 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, the Falcons liked the physicality he played with. Oluokun primarily played safety during his career at Yale until his final year when he switched the role of the hybrid linebacker-safety position that’s becoming more popular in today’s game.
The Falcons didn’t necessarily know exactly what position they would feature him at when they drafted him, but they knew they liked his skillset.
While there isn’t a full-blown youth movement going on in Atlanta, the Falcons’ current situation has allowed them to begin evaluating some of the younger players who could be a part of the future. There are already a number of young guys like Calvin Ridley and Foye Oluokun who have become impact players for Atlanta, so they won’t be discussed here, but several guys saw increased action last weekend against the Packers.
If you thought the fanbase’s confidence in this team had reached rock bottom, the last week probably denuded you of that notion. Even the starriest-eyed fans and writers here are just plain tired of the Falcons at this point, and the Green Bay game somehow managed to be a new low in a season full of fresh ones.
Wednesday, December 12
• Matt Ryan hopes to get Falcons’ offense back on track (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
The Falcons’ offense showed flashes of its former self Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
They are hopeful that the brief trend continues when the Falcons (4-9) play the Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The rushing attack was active and quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t look like he was running a fire drill every time that he dropped back to pass in the 34-20 loss to the Packers.
Focus has been a big topic of conversation at the Falcons practice facility this week, and it’s something Matt Ryan would like to see more consistently across the board from the offense.
When the unit is dialed in, Atlanta’s offense can be among the very best in the league. This season, however, that hasn’t often been the case. The Falcons’ 34-20 loss to the Packers last Sunday provided a good example of that.
• Falcons looking for Takk to make a comeback (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Takk McKinley wasn’t much in the mood to talk Wednesday, at least not in detail about Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s message of the day, which was “prepare and focus.”
Perhaps he was relatively quiet because he took the topic personally.
McKinley hasn’t been knocking quarterbacks down, let alone out, and that’s the primary job description attached to defensive ends.
• Tevin Coleman 48th in league in yards after contact (The Falcoholic)
Tevin Coleman is in the middle of his worst season in a usually productive career year. He averaged 4.5 and 4.4 yards per carry in his first two seasons, most notably averaging 13.6 yards per catch in 2016.
Since then it’s been tough sledding. Coleman has gotten more opportunities with Devonta Freeman’s injuries however his effectiveness as dropped to 4.0 yards per carry in 2017, and 4.1 yards per carry this season. It’s not expected he would lead the league in yards per carry, a title held by Phillip Lindsay at 5.8 yards per carry. However, he’s sandwiched between Latavius Murray and T.J. Murray as the 36th most effective back based on yards per carry.
• Julio Jones, Hooper held out of Falcons’ practice (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (foot/calf), tight end Austin Hooper (knee/ankle), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (groin/shoulder) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (toe) did not practice on Wednesday, according to the team’s official injury report.
Guard Ben Garland (back), linebacker Deion Jones (foot), tight end Logan Paulsen (knee/ankle) and running back Ito Smith (neck) were limited in practice.
Tuesday, December 11
At the end of last season, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he could envision a scenario in which the team would re-sign running back Tevin Coleman, even after inking starter Devonta Freeman to a long-term contract.
That scenario remains a possibility, according to coach Dan Quinn.
• For Falcons, winning still beats tanking (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines a game between two of the NFL’s worst.
For the Falcons, the game also follows the city’s MLS Cup victory, which took place in Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the Falcons play.
Hummer argues that just because the discussion is now about draft position instead of playoff position, the Falcons must play for progress heading into next season.
Falcons tight end Austin Hooper has been a thorn in the side of defenses this season and has arguably become the Falcons’ No. 2 receiving threat behind Julio Jones.
Hooper’s 64 receptions rank fourth in the NFL for tight ends and his 557 receiving yards are a career high.
What will be especially important for the Cardinals is stopping Hooper on third down.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has targeted Hooper 20 times on third or fourth down this season, and the duo has connected for a first down on 11 of those targets.
“I’ve seen a lot,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Hooper’s growth. “What I have also seen is his ability to finish plays … So I’ve been really impressed with his yards after the catch, his reliability.
“I thought he was one of the players that have made a significant jump for sure. He’s certainly getting the looks.”
• Flat Falcons can’t wave 2018 goodbye soon enough (The Falcoholic)
As disappointing a season as it’s been for the Cardinals, it may be more disappointing for the Falcons.
Atlanta was a good fourth quarter away from winning the Super Bowl two years ago and are now in last place in their division, which hasn’t been strong outside of the New Orleans Saints.
Opponents have been using the Cardinals, who are widely considered among the worst NFL teams, as a chance to salvage a win in a lost season.
This game will be no different. From the article:
The team probably needs another win to bump up the maladies that flow through the locker room and give the players a little something to build on for next season. There are no guarantees, though. If they look like this the rest of the way out, they may not win another game.
• A quick look at Josh Rosen and the Cardinals (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has been complimentary of the Cardinals’ rookie signal caller this week.
Quinn said he watched multiple of Josh Rosen’s college games in his pre-draft studies of the quarterbacks and liked what he saw.
“I was very impressed by Rosen,” Quinn said. “The accuracy, the quickness, the mental quickness of where to go with the ball.”
In particular, he liked how Rosen performed against his college rival, USC.
“I can remember going back through a UCLA and USC game, back and forth because both quarterbacks in that same game to see those two against similar players, both of them had played Stanford,” Quinn said.
“I remember going back and watching that game until I treated both of the quarterbacks against common opponents. I could clearly remember as we’re getting into the preparation of this week, but the quickness that the ball came out of his hands with the decision where to go with it.”