How’s everyone’s week been? Good? It’s always that little bit easier strolling into work after getting a win on Sunday night. And while it may be a rare occasion this season for our Arizona Cardinals, there could be another opportunity on the horizon when Matt Ryan and his struggling Atlanta Falcons come to Glendale on Sunday. It’s always good to have a bit of confidence, right?
Arizona are coming into Week 6 in high spirits, having ground out that all-important first win of the season on the road at Cincinnati. Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury unleashed a furious ground game plan that worked tremendously well, with quarterback Kyler Murray and second-year running back Chase Edmonds both crossing the plain.
As for this Sunday’s visitors, while they have already experienced a victory in 2019 in Week 2 against the Eagles, they’re coming off the back of a three-game losing streak. DeShaun Watson and his Houston Texans put up a colossal 53 points against the Falcons at the NRG Stadium last Sunday, allowing nearly 600 yards. Yikes.
Matt Ryan’s stats this year are about as topsy-turvy as the Falcons themselves. Ryan sits second in the league on passing yards with 1,655 yards, only bested by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. But while he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns, that has been counteracted by the seven interceptions he’s also taken, giving him a passer rating of just 62.4%. A far cry away from the MVP performances of 2017.
Arizona’s Kyler Murray’s start has been very different, however. He became the first QB in NFL history to pass for 1,300 yards and rush for 200 in his five games. His progression in the NFL is evolving with every passing week, with his 90.4 giving him an ‘elite grade’ according to Pro Football Focus in last week’s win at the Bengals. The offense is among the top 10 in the NFL with big chunk plays between the 20-yard lines. However, it’s the final-third conversions that are prohibiting this team from being in the company with the very best.
The Cards should have run away with the win at the Bengals and very nearly shot themselves in the foot with a defensive capitulation in the fourth quarter. Thankfully, Murray put on an efficient final drive and the Cards scored a walk-off field goal to snag the W. But of all six red-zone opportunities, the Cards could only muster one TD. We are more than likely going to see this gradually improve with every game as our young offense learns and adapts, but they have a great opportunity to attack a Falcons defense that gave up the same amount of points that the Cardinals realistically could have scored last Sunday. That same Atlanta team could be without star cornerback Desmond Trufant, who missed practice on Wednesday night, and has two picks of his own on the year already.
Arizona are craving those picks – they have yet to intercept an opposing quarterback in 2019 with the young, battered secondary having to adapt to playing in different positions with every game. Patrick Peterson’s long-awaited return will premiere next week against the Giants but until then, it will be new boy Trevor Williams who will step into the corner. Tramaine Brock will also be absent after suffering back-to back injuries against the Bengals last week.
Peterson’s return will open up the opportunity for Byron Murphy to potentially move into the slot, but Murphy may have his hands full. Despite Atlanta’s torrid start, Julio Jones has been a consistent factor in their offense and is on track for yet another 1,000-yard season. It could get ugly should the Cards fail to keep Atlanta’s #11 quiet. His name was actually on the injury report list on Wednesday, so there is a likelihood of him not featuring. It’s a very slim chance though, as the receiver has played through all types of injuries over the years. The man is a beast.
Another key figure who may not feature is running back David Johnson. Despite his brilliant performance at the Paul Brown Stadium last week, with 156 total yards, it was revealed afterwards that Johnson was playing with a back injury. Kliff Kingsbury didn’t rule out the possibility of him missing this Sunday’s game, which may take the sting out of both sides of the Cardinal offense: he’s a monumental player in the air and on the ground.
Finally, some recognition. The Cardinals offensive line deserve some credit and while I haven’t sung their praises of late, they have been among the leaders in the NFL on probability of the quarterback being hurried within three seconds. Arizona have a QB hurry probability of 11.8% according to NFL Next Gen Stats, with the Colts their only superior with 9% and ahead of the undefeated 49ers and the Patriots. More of the same on Sunday, please.
In the last six meetings, the Cardinals have only won once, with Atlanta winning the last three. I’ve talked about predictability before (look back at my Panthers preview for context), but I’m feeling confident. A first win for Murray and the Cardinals could open the door to more dynamic play-calling. And with nothing to prove this year, it could be the perfect opportunity for Murray and the Cardinals to make another statement and grab their first home win of the season.
Prediction: Falcons 20, Cardinals 24
Feature Picture – Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America