The Cardinals have had their defensive issues. No one is arguing that. But goodness, so have the Falcons. It got ugly in Houston last week, with the Texans scoring 53 points and Deshaun Watson going off for 426 yards passing and as many touchdown passes as incompletions (5).
Maybe Sunday will be a Big 12-esque back-and-forth. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray know what that’s about.
The Falcons are much better offensively than the Bengals last week, but the Cardinals did OK defensively much of that game. Then came the late meltdown that nearly cost them a win, and surely cost defensive coordinator Vance Joseph some of his health. I asked him this week how he dealt with that late collapse. “I did not deal with it,” Joseph said.
“A win is a win, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish,” Joseph said. “After the first drive of the game), which was horrendous, we made great adjustments on the side. We played really good defense for 3-and-a-half quarters and then the last two drives weren’t how we wanted to finish. Half of that was me – that first drive I wanted to be bend-not-break, and as (Andy Dalton) got hot I was bringing pressures, it was too late. I can keep us more aggressive with more aggressive calls.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan can be pressured, as witness by his seven interceptions and an offensive line that has struggled. But he has pass catchers, and, here in this final game before Patrick Peterson’s return, the Cardinals are still trying to find cover guys. Add in all the linebacker injuries, and, again, maybe a shootout.
This is a game the Cardinals feel they can win. The Falcons are reeling, on the road and haven’t been home since last Saturday morning. Can Murray and the offense get a lead again? We saw last week how that benefits the playcalling.
-- If David Johnson was completely healthy, that would be better. He isn’t. If I had to guess, I’d say he will play, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chase Edmonds gets more of the load.
-- I don’t know where I stand with Christian Kirk playing. His game is about cutting, so if that’s the issue with his bad ankle – which is what Kingsbury said Friday – letting him rest at least another game makes sense to me.
-- Larry Fitzgerald knows like everyone else that the Cardinals have to be better in the red zone. “If we get five or six possessions in the red zone and get four touchdowns something like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing,” Fitzgerald said. Uh, yeah. Four touchdowns a week in the red zone, plus a field goal or two, I’m guessing Kingsbury would take that. At this point, at 30 percent TD conversion in the red zone, I’m guessing Kingsbury would be happy to get to 50 percent and go from there.
-- With at least 20 completions Sunday, Murray would become the first player in NFL history with at least 20 completions in his first six games.
-- Linebacker Jordan Hicks was one of the few linebackers healthy this week. He missed Thursday’s practice, but it was for a good reason – and congrats to the Hicks family on their new baby.
-- The Falcons are spending the week in Tempe prepping for this game. They came straight from Houston instead of going back to Georgia. It’ll be interesting to see how that helps – or doesn’t. In my time covering the Cardinals, the team has spent a week away in another city to prep for a game four times. In 2008, there was a week in Virginia prior to a blowout loss to the Jets. In 2013, there was a week in Florida prior to an uninspired win over the Buccaneers. In 2015, there was the week in West Virginia prior to a disappointing loss to the Steelers. And in 2016, the week in London did not seem to help in a blowout loss to the Rams.
-- Patrick Peterson will return from his suspension next week (and while the Cardinals will have to figure out who to release from the roster to make room for Peterson, they can ask for a roster exemption for the week before the Giants game before having to make such a move), but he isn’t the only player eligible for a return. The window for offensive lineman Max Garcia (knee) to come back to practice from the physically-unable-to-perform list also opens next week – although we will see where Garcia stands in his rehab.
-- Joseph on Peterson’s return: “We have a big game on Sunday we expect to win. He’ll be here Monday, but we play Sunday.”
I’ll be there. See you then.