By Matthew Asher
Last year against the Cardinals—thanks in no part to Matt Ryan’s career-high five interception, no touchdown game—the Falcons were lucky to come away with a 23-19 victory. According to STATS LLC, that was the first time since 1967 that a quarterback threw five interceptions and no touchdowns, but still won the game. The last player to do it? Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer quarterback Bart Starr. After hearing that interesting tidbit, Ryan didn’t seem to take that news too bad. “That’s good company to be in,” Ryan said with a chuckle.
This is a game where Atlanta should be considered the favorite, even if Arizona has a better record. As far as statistical match-ups go, the few bright spots that Arizona has on defense are Atlanta’s weak spots on offense meaning the Falcons weren’t planning on relying on them to win the game anyway.
Arizona ranks in the bottom half of the league in most offensive statistics. The Cardinals scored19 points each game, 309.7 total yards of offense and 77.7 rushing yards all rank in the the bottom 10 of the league. Rashard Mendenhall leads the team with 92 rushing attempts for 281 yards and Andre Ellington has added 28 runs for a total of 179 yards and one touchdown. Mendenhall and Ellington are responsible for four or Arizona’s five rushing touchdowns with Mendenhall leading the way with three and Ellington adding a touchdown of his won.
With Carson Palmer at quarterback and Larry Fitzgerald as his primary target, Arizona’s passing game is the highlight of their offense when compared to their running game. However, the Cardinals only get 232 passing yards a game which still ranks in the bottom half of the league at 17. Palmer has completed about 60 percent of his pass attempts for 1741 yards. But the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner has thrown only eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions so far for an abysmal quarterback rating of 69.5.
Fitzgerald leads the team with 32 receptions, 422 yards and four touchdowns. But he’s been dealing with a lingering hamstring issue the past few weeks, something Falcons fans are very familiar with with Roddy White. Michael Floyd is the other Cardinal wide receiver of note as he is right behind Fitzgerald with 31 catches and 403 receiving yards but only one touchdown. Only one other Cardinal has at least 20 catches but no one else has more than 200 receiving yards.
The Cardinals defense is statistically better than their offense, but not by much. Arizona’s one strength at defense, averaging just 97 rushing yards is the seventh best in the league but the only defensive statistic to rank in the top 10. This is Atlanta’s glaring weak-spot on offense that was mentioned earlier. With Steven Jackson out since Week 2, Atlanta has the third worst rushing attack in the league. The 23 points Arizona allows a game are the 18th most in the league. The 349.7 total yards of offense given up just cracks the top half at 16.
With Atlanta relying so much on Matt Ryan’s arm, this game should come down to the Cardinals secondary against the Falcons receivers. Atlanta averages more than 300 passing yards a game, the third most in the league while Arizona’s defense gives up 252.7 passing yards a game, the 19th most. Arizona has picked off eight interceptions but with Ryan completing 70 percent of his throws and just three interceptions in six games, relying on turnovers is not the way to win this game.
Kickoff for this game is scheduled for 4:25pm EDT. #RiseUp
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.