GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It looked all too familiar to the Arizona Cardinals.
A team went down early, couldn’t catch up on the ground and was forced to throw the ball. But the more they threw, the more they were sacked and intercepted.
There was one exception Sunday. It wasn’t the Cardinals who were in that situation for a change. Arizona got on top of the Atlanta Falcons early Sunday and forced them to play catch up from the shot gun. It allowed the Cardinals to do what so many teams have done to them: attack fast and in waves.
Arizona sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan four times and had as many interceptions in a 27-13 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“We know they like to throw the ball a lot, so anytime you get  attempts throwing the ball, you have to get your hands on some of them,” linebacker Daryl Washington said. “I thought we did a good job up front getting pressure on Matt Ryan.”
Sunday’s performance by the defense, which Washington said was Arizona’s best this season, was a step-by-step process aided by the offense getting a lead early in the second quarter that the Cardinals didn’t relent.
First, it was stopping the run. The Cardinals stuffed Steven Jackson, limiting him to six yards on 11 carries in his first game back from injury. Ryan, in fact, was the Falcons’ leading rusher with 13 yards on a single carry.
Second, it was pressuring Ryan. Arizona’s four sacks were one more than Atlanta had allowed in any game this season. As the Cardinals have learned, when a team is in passing situations, the pocket tends to close quicker than usual. Atlanta found that out.
“When you get pressure on him like that you have to throw the ball the ball quick,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Throwing the ball usually leads to interceptions.”
Indeed it does.
Third, it was taking advantage of pressuring Ryan into quick decisions. The Cards had four interceptions, all in the second half. Washington came down with one and rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu came down with another. But safety Rashad Johnson, who didn’t start, had two.
“It was just the same, the preparation that I take week-in and week-out going into games,” Johnson said. “In this football game, [there’s] so many plays that everybody’s going to get an opportunity to make plays throughout the year. I just wanted to continue not to press because I hadn’t had any picks earlier in the season and I knew they would come.”