Cardinals must make Falcons’ Desmond Ridder beat them with his arm

Dec 31, 2022, 8:45 AM

TEMPE — The Atlanta Falcons entered the season with little hope for much success in 2022.

Despite the narrative surrounding the team, Atlanta was .500 eight weeks in and kept itself somewhat in the NFC South title hunt up until recently.

Even if the division itself has been weak from a wins standpoint, the Falcons at least gave themselves a chance at playing for something near the back half of the season.

Now eliminated from the playoffs, the Falcons — much like the Arizona Cardinals — have shifted their focus from the present to the future, using these the waning weeks of the season to better evaluate the young talent on the roster.

For Atlanta, that means taking a closer look at rookie signal caller Desmond Ridder, who has taken the reins of the offense from former starter Marcus Mariota.

Getting the starting nod in Week 15, Ridder has completed 35 of his 59 pass attempts (59.3%) for 315 yards and no scores. He also carried the ball 10 times for 46 yards.

The QB switch has yielded little success in the win-loss column for the Falcons, though, who continue to struggle to find consistency through the air amid a four-game losing streak. The lackluster passing attack is among the worst in the NFL, averaging 155 yards per game. Only the Chicago Bears (136.5) have a worse mark. It also hasn’t helped the team’s average point total of 11.5 over the past four weeks of play.

Atlanta’s ground game is really its only saving grace 16 weeks into the season.

Carrying the torch as a true run-first offense, the Falcons are third in the NFL when it comes to rushing yards per game (160.9), fourth in attempts (490) and fourth in yards per carry (4.9).

A lot of the offense’s success in running the football has come behind the legs of Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Sitting at 817 yards and two touchdowns on 166 carries, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Allgeier has a real shot at hitting the 1,000-yard mark with two games left to play.

Allgeier may pace the team in rushing yards, but it’s the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Patterson who leads the way when it comes to touchdowns on the ground with six to go along with 635 yards on 130 attempts.

And while the passing game has left a lot to be desired, 6-foot-5, 210-pound rookie and the team’s leading wideout in Drake London presents another big body that can be a menace with the ball in his hands that the Cardinals must contend with on Sunday.

It’s all about putting the big-boy pads on and sticking to the fundamentals for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and Co.

“They’ve got big guys who can carry the ball, so getting these guys tackled, that’s going to be an issue,” Joseph said Thursday. “We have to gang tackle these guys, take them low.

“Last week, we had trouble with (Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette). That’s a big back, so it won’t change this week with those three guys and getting them tackled. That’s my biggest concern.”

Adding to Joseph’s concerns on Sunday is the fact that the team will be without its leading tackler in safety Budda Baker after he fractured his shoulder in Arizona’s loss last week to Tampa Bay. In his place will be star backer Isaiah Simmons and veteran Chris Banjo, two players Joseph believes can get the job done these last two weeks.

On top of missing Baker and his 111 tackles the rest of the way, Arizona will also be without another one of its best defenders in lineman Zach Allen for at least another week due to a hand injury.

In 13 games played, Allen has 5.5 sacks, eight passes defensed, 10 tackles for loss and 19 QB hits in 2022.

With Allen missing the past two games due to the injury, lineman Jonathan Ledbetter has earned a bigger role in the defense and is in line for another healthy dose of snaps on Sunday.

“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s gotten better and better,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Ledbetter ahead of the Buccaneers game. “I think he’s one of those guys that every time we ask him to do something, even if it’s more snaps than he anticipated, he plays at a high level and competes. I’ve been impressed with his progress this season.”

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