The Arizona Cardinals(1-0) continue their 2010 season on the road when they face the Atlanta Falcons(0-1) this Sunday. It's a rematch of their playoff game two seasons ago, but in no way are these two teams the same. Kurt Warner is preparing for Dancing With The Stars, while Matt Ryan is no longer a rookie quarterback. Surely however, both teams will remember that game that propelled the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearence.
Against the Rams last Sunday, the Cardinals showcased their new look on offense and defense. Derek Anderson officially began his career as a Cardinal with a big "bleh" performance. Completing a mere 53% of his passes, Anderson struggled to find his receivers for the majority of the contest. He did make it count in the end however, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald that wound up the difference in the ball game.
On defense, Bill Davis swarmed rookie quarterback Sam Bradford the entire game. Pro Bowl Safety Adrian Wilson showed many why he is one of the best strong safeties in the league, recording two interceptions, one sack, and one blocked field goal. The defense as a whole looked rock solid, limiting both the Rams' passing and rushing attack. It's imperative that the defense plays atop their game on Sunday, for Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Turner will be ready.
As the Cardinals began their 2010 season, the Falcons were finishing up a close game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons' offense never quite take off against the Steelers defense, only scoring nine points off of three field goals. A result of a poor rushing performance, the Falcons weren't able to make any big plays happen through the air. Turner rushed for 42 yards for a 2.2 ypc average. Matt Ryan completed 27 passes for 252 yards, but one pass went to the Steelers and Ryan only averaged 5.7 yards per completion. If there's one thing that we all know about the NFL, it's that it doesn't take long for an offense to score a touchdown.
Three Keys To Success
- Anderson & Fitzgerald On The Same Page - We saw the result of Derek Anderson and Larry Fitzgerald struggling to connect last week. Fitzgerald was targeted the third most last week, 15 times, but only caught three of those passes. Many of the throws were sporadic and left Larry diving out of his way to make a play. Anderson has always had issues keeping his throws accurate, but some of those misses were results of neither players being on the same page. If they can establish that connection sometime soon, they'll become a dangerous combination to cover.
- Stop Roddy White - If we flip the spectrum, we can see that Roddy White was targeted 23 times against the Steelers last week -- the most of any receiver. White is a threat to take the ball to the house with his speed and elusiveness. Matt Ryan will do his best to put the ball in his hands in open space in order for him to make a play. The defense must be aware of where White is at all times.
- Contain The Football - After fumbling the football four times last week, holding onto the football should sit atop the Cardinals priority list. Against a better opponent, those fumbles may have resulted in more points allowed. The Falcons aren't the Rams, and have likely game-planned on targeting the ball.
- Improved Offensive Line Blocking - I added a fourth key to success because the Cardinals offensive line must improve in order to get a win on Sunday. Anderson struggled getting away from pressure against the Rams' suspect defensive line. The Falcons have John Abraham, who although he isn't in is glory years, can still cause havoc in the backfield. The run blocking never seemed to take off as well, forcing the Cardinals to bounce the ball to the outside where they experienced success.
Key Match Up
Derek Anderson vs Falcons Secondary - If Anderson can put the ball in his receiver's hands, the offense will move up and down the field in better transition. That's a big "if" however. Atlanta's secondary isn't filled with Pro Bowl'ers, but neither is the Rams'. Being the top corner, Dunta Robinson will challenge Anderson's accuracy. It all falls back on the Cardinals offensive line. If they provide better protection, it hinders the Falcons secondary at making a play on defense.
Who will be the Cardinals primary running back? Tim Hightower carried the bulk of the carries for the Cardinals on the ground last week -- fumbling on the opening drive and when the Cardinals were trying to run out the clock for the win. This week Beanie Wells is a game-time decision but should he play, I'd imagine he'd run the ball a lot. LaRod Stephens-Howling provided a refreshing change-of-pace last week and he may get thrown in the mix again against the Falcons.
In the last two seasons, including the playoffs, when the Falcons' defense allows 24 or more points, they experienced a 3-13 record. The Cardinals offense will need to be on point tomorrow and must score every chance they get. Seventeen points may not be enough for the victory.
The Cardinals will attempt to improve their record to 2-0 tomorrow as they take on a fellow NFC foe in the Atlanta Falcons. The offensive chemistry remains to be seen, but the defense should be prepared for Matt Ryan and his offensive weapons. A victory for the Cardinals falls on the shoulders of Derek Anderson, but also ball security. Four fumbles will undoubtedly lead to a loss, but containing the football and taking advantage of scoring opportunities will lead to a win. The Cardinals quest for another NFC West division title continues tomorrow.