Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons Playoff Primer
December 29, 2008 by AlexV
The first game of Wild-Card Weekend features two teams that I’m sure many people would argue are “one-and-done” teams. However, the fact is, one of these one-and-doners will definitely be advancing with the question of course being who.
The Atlanta Falcons do not have too much upside defensively. The only standout player this season was John Abraham who accounted for 47% of Atlanta’s 35 sacks with 16.5 total. That isn’t very good. That means of the other typical sackers on a standard NFL team, the three linebackers, the other defensive end, and perhaps the strong safety in some cases would have produced an average of 3.8 sacks a-piece. Too bad for the Falcons that Mr. Milloy, the strong safety, had none. Their 21st ranked pass defense gave up 220.4 yards per game, and their 25th ranked run D gave up 127.5 yards per game.
That type of passing defense won’t bode well against a quarterback in Kurt Warner who threw for over 4,500 yards this season. As far as the Falcons run defense goes, I guess that isn’t too bad as the Cardinals rush offense was good for last with 73.6 yards per game, meaning if they just don’t screw up any assignments and miss any tackles, they should be able to post a solid to admirable effort against the run.
But Edgerin James against the Seahawks this week amassed 100 yards on 14 carries. He has been off this season, but he perhaps could be trying to prove that he still has some gas left in the tank since that was his first game in a while, and if there was ever a game for him to do so, this could be it. And I know the argument can be that he did it against Seattle, but with a 25th ranked run defense, the Falcons aren’t much better. Who knows? Maybe the Cards will run a two-back system with James and Tim Hightower, and they could stay fresh and get a couple decent gainers here and there.
On the flipside of things, the Cardinals defense gave up 26.6 points per game. Most teams wouldn’t even stand a chance at being in contention in the finals weeks of most regular NFL seasons with that kind of defense, but luckily for the Cardinals, they played in a bad division. On top of that, Arizona’s pass D was 22nd giving up 221.2 yards per game. But the worst part is that their run defense, who faces Michael Turner (1,699 yards and 2nd in the NFL), was 16th giving up 110.2 yards per game.
The Falcons MO all year has been to give the ball to Turner as much as possible so that Matt Ryan only needs to make 2-3 good or big plays a game, usually to Roddy White who was fourth among all wide receivers with 1,382 yards and had seven of Ryan’s 16 total TDs.
The bottom line is, with the virtually identical defenses of both teams, if the Matt Ryan-led Falcons had more experience under their belt, this game would have had the makings for an Atlanta win as they could have grinded out the run game and kept the passes to a minimum as the Arizona run game and run defense has basically been non-existent for most of the season.
However… I just have to go with Kurt Warner’s will, experience, two stud wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and the home crowd to come out on top. The tandem of Boldin and Fitzgerald are enough to make up for not having a running game against a young team like Atlanta. I think Matt Ryan is just too young to take this game, and for all the criticism that the Cardinals have received in losing four of their last five games, it is almost like Kurt Warner gets to start off fresh again. And I say this because in their recent losses, the Cardinals were getting blown out early to the point where Warner didn’t need to bother even trying the rest of whatever game they were playing. And if convention says that players need to stay hot going into the post season, I don’t see that as being the case here with Kurt Warner.
Basically, both teams are not looking like Super Bowl contenders, and ultimately, when it comes down to two “one-and-done” type teams, you gotta go with the guys playing at home and especially with having the more experienced quarterback. Cardinals win.