When the Atlanta Falcons faced the Arizona Cardinals last season at the Georgia Dome, quarterback Matt Ryan threw a career-high five interceptions. But the Falcons still walked away with a 23-19 victory thanks to Michael Turner’s 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Ryan can't afford that many turnovers this time against an improved Arizona team with a swarming defense and a legitimate quarterback in Carson Palmer. The 2-4 Falcons need to start putting a streak together after last weekend's win over the Bucs.
Here’s what to watch for Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Inside story: The Cardinals are sure to come at Ryan with a furious rush, led by Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, and former Falcon John Abraham. But the wild card is inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who has two sacks in three games since serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He had nine sacks in 2012 as well, so the Falcons have to be aware of Washington’s blitzes. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have excelled in blitz pickup, but Snelling will miss this game with an ankle injury. So the responsibility for picking up Washington could fall to Steven Jackson, who is probable to return from a Week 2 hamstring injury. "When he does blitz, he comes with violence," Jackson said of Washington. "So you’ve got to make sure that I have a low center of gravity … just to make sure that I’m sound."
Deep cover: The Falcons knew they couldn’t duplicate the vertical threat presented by Julio Jones. They sure tried, though, with new No. 1 receiver Harry Douglas last week catching passes of 54 and 37 yards, the latter for a touchdown. You better believe the Cardinals know Douglas went off for a career-high 149 receiving yards against the Bucs. So expect Patrick Peterson, whom one former NFL defensive coordinator called the best defender in the league, to stick all over Douglas come Sunday. The 6-foot, 183-pound Douglas has a competitive fire about him, but he doesn’t have the speed to blaze by Peterson (6-1, 219). If Peterson neutralizes Douglas, one of the other pass-catchers has to step up. Can you say Tony Gonzalez?
Huddling up: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said the Falcons likely wouldn’t use the no-huddle as much without experienced receivers such as Jones and Roddy White in the lineup, and indeed last week it was pretty much nonexistent. But as Ryan explained, it wasn't totally eliminated from the equation. "We did a lot of what we would do in the no-huddle, just from the huddle," Ryan explained. "And we were changing plays [at] the line of scrimmage in a different way. I thought that was effective for us because we got our young guys to hear things in the huddle and took something off their plate with all the verbal communication and non-verbal communication that happens in the no-huddle." In other words, don’t expect to see the no-huddle in Arizona, either.
Youth movement: Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan got a closer look at his young players last week against the winless Bucs. While rookie first-round pick Desmond Trufant stood out in his new role as the nickel corner playing the slot, starting linebacker Paul Worrilow admitted he needed to work on his blitzing. It will be interesting to see if playing time for rookie defensive ends Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga continues to increase. "Not as good as I wanted to play, but it still felt good to be out there," said Maponga, who played 21 snaps last week after coming off a preseason stress fracture. "I have a long ways to go to get back to my normal self." Maponga also realizes he needs to play smarter. He was fined $7,875 for a late hit, a play that certainly didn’t please Nolan.