The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Falcons at State Farm Stadium:
Julio Is Gonna Be The Guy To Cover Those Receivers?
Patrick Peterson, who has had some nice battles with Julio Jones over the years, is still a few days away from returning from suspension – in fact, he comes back the day after the Cardinals play Jones and the Falcons. So for this game, the Cards are having to juggle some things on the backend to cover Jones, and Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu, and tight end Austin Hooper. Tramaine Brock did have a shoulder issue but he looks like he'll be able to play, and Byron Murphy – even as a rookie – could end up drawing the majority of the Jones work. Kevin Peterson played well enough to get Chris Jones released. There are still two rookie safeties, the Thompson twins (Deionte and Jalen) sharing time with Budda Baker, who himself could get some slot work.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has to find a way to make something work. The Falcons may be reeling, but they also threw for more than 300 yards last week with three touchdowns. This is a better unit passing the ball than the Cardinals saw in Cincinnati, and the Bengals passed their way to two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make a game out of one that shouldn't have been.
David Johnson, Running The Ball And The Offensive Dynamic
No injury is ideal. A back issue – for instance, like the one with which running back David Johnson is dealing – usually is more complicated. You want you're all-everything back to, you know, be able to do everything. If back tightness is going to limit that, it's a problem. We probably won't know until Sunday if Johnson will play for sure. All that said, the Cardinals were encouraged by how Johnson, Chase Edmonds and Kyler Murray ran the ball last week, with 266 yards. Is it sustainable? (The running well part; no one is expecting 266 yards a week, or even 166.) Does Kliff Kingsbury even see it as the direction he wants to go? The Cardinals need to be able to run the ball, and convert in tight situations (like the red zone.) With all due respect to Edmonds, who has earned the increase in touches he has gotten, the Cards need Johnson to fully flesh out that part of the game. That's not even including Johnson's receiving skills.
A Chance At A Streak
Now that the first win is out of the way, getting one at home – and after the Falcons game, the Cardinals will already be halfway through their home schedule – is the next box to check. The Falcons are struggling. Then comes a road game at the Giants, another struggling team. This is the part of the schedule for the Cardinals where wins can be found – if the Cards can manage to find them. This deep into the season, the Cards are coming close to who they will be this season. The one plus is that, with a rookie quarterback and rookie coach, there are reasons to believe the arrow can continue to trend upward. As always, though, wins and losses are the easiest barometer to use to measure that growth.