By Matthew Asher
Both the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals suffered a defeat in Week 11 but still remain atop their respective divisions. If Atlanta wants to avoid a second straight loss and continue to pressure the rest of the NFC South, here are three factors that will help them out. There’s no telling when the rest of the division will start winning again, so consider this a probable make-or-break game for the Falcons regardless of the outcome.
Key 1: Win the Turnover Battle
While this may sound obvious, because it is, it’s also one of the strengths of the Cardinals. Arizona currently is at plus-10 in the turnover department. The 15 interceptions they’ve recorded are the second most in the league. Two of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns meaning the offense doesn’t even have to score. This is a problem because Arizona already has the second stingiest scoring defense.
In addition to Arizona doing a great job of forcing turnovers, they do a great job of limiting turnovers on their end. Quarterback Drew Stanton has only thrown three interceptions this season. That stat alone means that Stanton, who is filling in for injured starter Carson Palmer, is not trying to force throws he has no business attempting. He’s patient and more willing to simply throw the ball away than try to thread the needle.
Key 2: Know Where Andre Ellington is At All Times
Ellington has been a workhorse for Arizona this season. As the starting running back, he leads the team with almost 200 rushing attempts for 648 yards and three touchdowns. What’s a little shocking is he’s also the co-leader of the team with 46 receptions and tied for third with three receiving touchdowns. The other Cardinal with 46 catches? Larry Fitzgerald, who didn’t play against Seattle on Sunday. And if Fitzgerald sits out this game against Atlanta, it will be even more apparent to cover Ellington as he had 15 touches last game.
Key 3: Don’t Get Greedy
We’ve said it before: field goals aren’t sexy, but they’re still three points. Seattle could have won their game against Arizona on the leg of their placekicker Steve Hauschka by himself. Hauschka was 4-5 with a long of 52-yards. Seattle was just 1-5 in the Red Zone and 0-2 in Goal-to-Go situations, but rather than a risky touchdown attempt, three field goals within 35 yards were all made. Seattle believes in that their defense doesn’t need the additional points and is content to simply get what they can.
On the flip side, Atlanta’s defense should be content to allow Arizona to attempt field goals rather than go for risky interceptions or a jailhouse blitz on the quarterback. Chandler Catanzaro is anything but automatic this season. He’s perfect with kicks within 39 yards but once he gets beyond the 40-yard line, he starts to miss kicks. The last two Falcons games have been decided by a field goal attempt so it’s important to win this battle for Atlanta’s psyche.
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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.