By Matthew Asher
Arizona may have a better record than Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean Atlanta shouldn’t expect to leave the desert with a 3-4 record. These are three factors to pay attention to throughout the game.
Pressure Palmer Constantly
The one constant for Arizona this year on offense has been their inability to protect their quarterback Carson Palmer. Every game Palmer has been sacked at least once and against Seattle he was sacked seven times for a total of 20 sacks in only seven games.
Just like with his sacks, Palmer has thrown at least one interception in every game this season. From Week 3 onward, Palmer has thrown at least two interceptions each game. He currently has thrown 13 picks compared to just eight touchdowns.
Keep Ryan’s Jersey (and Stats) Clean
Last year against Arizona Matt Ryan had one of the worst games of his career. He did throw for 301 yards, but didn’t throw a touchdown and had five interceptions. That was the first time since Bart Starr in 1967 that a quarterback had thrown five interceptions, no touchdowns and still came away with a win. He has done a much better job of not turning the ball over so far this season.
Ryan has thrown just three total interceptions in three different games through Week 7. Atlanta is 0-3 when Ryan has been picked off this season. The only Falcons loss when Ryan didn’t throw an interception was the Monday night game against the Jets. However he was sacked twice.
Through six games Matt Ryan has been sacked nine times. The Tampa Bay game was only the second game in which Ryan wasn’t sacked. The other game was not the Week 2 win against St. Louis, but the Week 3 loss to the Dolphins. If you remember the ending of that game, Atlanta needed a touchdown to win but Ryan’s second pass attempt of the drive, and final of the game, ended up being his only interception thrown in the game.
The Tampa Bay game is the only one this season where Ryan neither threw an interception nor was sacked. For this to happen again, Atlanta’s offensive line is going to have to give him the time needed and pay special attention to former Falcons defensive end John Abraham.
Abraham led the Falcons in sacks last year but was cut during the off-season. He signed with Arizona but it wasn’t until last week’s game against Seattle that he showed glimpses of his former talents when he recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Give the Ball to Gonzalez
Let’s drop all pretenses and simply say that even in his 17th year in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez has to be considered one of the best if not the best receiving tight end in NFL history. Against both the Patriots and Jets, Gonzalez spent the majority of both games being double covered. He still managed 22 catches, almost 250 yards and a team-leading three touchdown receptions during those two games.
In three of Arizona’s four losses, the opposing tight ends have each had monster games. St. Louis Ram Jared Cook, New Orleans Saint Jimmy Graham and San Francisco 49er Vernon Davis pulled down a combined 24 receptions for 455 yards. Each tight end had two touchdown receptions by the end of the game.
With Julio Jones out for the rest of the season, Gonzalez is currently the team’s active leader in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. If Tony gets near the eight catches, 150 receiving yards and two touchdowns that Cook, Graham and Davis averaged against Arizona, this game will get ugly real quickly for the Cardinals.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 pm EST. #RiseUp
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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.