Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson returns one of his two interceptions of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during last year's meeting between the teams.
Patrick Peterson pondered why the Cardinals seemed to handle Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan well.
"Honestly, I don't know. It probably goes into a great week of preparation …" Peterson said, before cutting himself off and pausing. "I don't know what it is."
Then he smiled. "I think he just likes this secondary."
Probably not. The Cardinals, over the years, have been more of a nightmare for Ryan, dating back to his first meeting when the Falcons played the Cards in a 2008 wild card playoff game and a rookie Ryan threw two interceptions and was sacked for a safety in a 30-24 Arizona win – and later, rumors flew that the Cards' defense had figured out some "tell" of Ryan's that gave away plays before the snap.
Ryan was able to shred the Cards in a blowout win in 2010 (three touchdown passes), but the past two seasons, across two
different Arizona defensive coordinators, Ryan has been miserable. In 2012, the Cardinals went to Atlanta and intercepted Ryan five times (although still managed to lose to the Falcons). Last season, the Cardinals piled up four more interceptions in a win.
"Obviously," Ryan said of last year's game, "it was not a good day for us."
For his career, Ryan has six touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in four total meetings, a passer rating of 62.2.
After a week in which the Cards lost in Seattle and were unable to force any turnovers, Ryan provides a welcome possibility.
"When you play a team and have the success, especially on the back end getting interceptions, getting turnovers, teams when they come back around, you definitely notice it," said safety Rashad Johnson, who had an interception against Ryan in 2012 and two more in 2013. "You know they are going to throw the ball, put it in the air, so there is a good feeling headed to Atlanta."
There are few parallels between the good days against Ryan. In 2008, the team was much different and the defensive coordinator was Clancy Pendergast. In 2012, Ray Horton was calling the defensive plays. Last season – and now – it is Todd Bowles.
Bowles, not surprisingly, shrugs at the Cards' Ryan success. He waves off the idea the Cardinals have gotten inside Ryan's head, and notes that this year the Falcons have star wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White available. Both were injured and did
not play against the Cardinals last season.
"Every year is a different year," Bowles said.
The Cardinals need the turnovers. Offensively, the team hasn't been clicking, but helping that side of the ball with short fields has been one of the reasons the Cards have been able to build a 9-2 record. There was frustration in Seattle about not getting the ball loose, as the Seahawks played conservative and quarterback Russell Wilson was content to take a sack rather than make any risky throws.
Johnson said the Cardinals have to find ways to cause fumbles if the interception opportunities are not there. But the turnover game will be important to the Cards going forward.
"In the game of sports you learn you can't really press too much," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "You play the game 100 percent as hard as you can. Every day is not going to be your day. Some days, the ball doesn't bounce your way. But nine times out of 10 you play hard, good things will happen."
The percentage might go up when the Cardinals take on the Falcons and Matt Ryan.
"Sometimes it's like that," Johnson said. "Last year those guys were depleted. The biggest thing, if you can get pressure on him early, hit him early, it seems to rattle him. Then you have an opportunity to get your chances."
FITZGERALD A GAME-DAY DECISION AGAIN
Coach Bruce Arians said that once again, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a game-day decision to play Sunday coming back from his knee sprain. If Fitzgerald does play, Arians said, it would not just be in a small role. "If he goes, he goes," Arians said. …
Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) and linebacker Kenny Demens (hamstring) are out. …
Arians said backup guard Jonathan Cooper, who played five tight end snaps last week in a jumbo package, "should" get more playing time this week. …
Arians said the Cards will "wait and see" if new running back Michael Bush has a role in the game. Arians said earlier in the week it wouldn't be a surprise if Bush did not play in Atlanta.