Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals: 3 X-Factors for the Falcons

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a catch against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) in the second quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a catch against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) in the second quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons face a huge battle this Sunday in a game in which they yearn to wipe off the grimy grit of the Eagles loss in their pursuit to take reign over the NFC South for the first time since 2012.

We all remember 2014’s game which was preceded by an overly confident Patrick Peterson claiming that he won most of the one-on-one match-ups against Jones in college. Jones played for Alabama, and Peterson played for LSU. While Jones might have thought otherwise, he saved his rebuttal for the field. All I can say to Patrick Peterson is, “big mistake.” Jones totally obliterated Peterson and made him eat his words, as he made Peterson look like a high school cornerback. Jones went on to receive for a then career-high 189 yards. I’m sure Peterson will be much more careful with his words this week.

This upcoming game against the Cardinals is fairly similar, but it is a mirror image. The current Falcons mirror the 2014 Cardinals who finished the season 11-5 and the current cardinals mirror the 2014 Falcons who finished 6-10. The contest again features two teams headed in opposite direction, yet both athirst with something to prove. The Falcons wan’t to still prove that they won’t falter after adversity like last year, and the Cardinals want to prove that they are better than their record presumes them to be. It’s a clash of the birds. The Falcons are well-rested and healthy after the bye and are looking to spur a late-season run.  Here are three X-Factors for the Falcons this Sunday in their quest for a division title and post-season run.

Dec 20, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) makes a reception and breaks the tackle attempt of Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95) during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

1. David Johnson

David Johnson is a beast, simply put. For one, I have him on my fantasy football team so I’m a fan every game against a team not named the Falcons and can attest to his dominance. He consistently outscores everyone in my line-up by substantial margins, putting up astounding numbers each week, regardless of the opponent. The Falcons must limit his production this weekend and keep him from dominating as usual. He will put up his numbers, but the Falcon’s must control him enough to the point where he isn’t allowing the Card’s offense to move fluently up and down the field for 60 minutes. It’s a conflict of interests but I will definitely take a Falcon’s win over a fantasy loss any day. Sorry, David Johnson and fantasy points. We’ll be back to good terms next week.

Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense has had their struggles, yet David Johnson has been the diamond in the rough for the offense which hasn’t been looking as dominant as their potential foretells. He has 863 rushing yards and 510 receiving yards on the season and has to be accounted for on all areas of the field, especially the read zone, hence his 12 touchdowns. He can do it all. He can run and block exceptionally well but what makes him most dangerous is his ability to line up as a wide-receiver.

That play made me happy last week but probably won’t make me happy to see this week. Okay maybe one won’t hurt but only if that’s the Cardinal’s only touchdown. It’s apparent I want my cake and eat it too.

We are familiar with running backs being able to catch the ball like wide-receivers exceptionally well. Just look at Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. I always think how difficult it would be to defend these two if they lined up on the opposite side of our defensive line. Welp, this week we’ll will see it first hand as their clone will do just that.

The Falcons have struggled against pass catching running backs but I think they will be more prepared this week having two weeks of preparation. Again, they don’t have to completely lock him down because that seems to be impossible. As long as we tackle and limit the short passes to him, we should be fine as again, at times it has looked as if he is the only consistency in the Card’s offense.  The Falcons simply just have to limit him from invigorating life into the Card’s offense and maybe just allow him to get at least 10 points for my fantasy team as opposed to the 20 points he averages. I’ll sacrifice those 10 points for a Falcon’s win.

Sep 11, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) celebrates his interception from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2. Turnover Margin

As you know, turnover’s can significantly define a game. Turnover’s alter the mindset of a team and can either stimulate or falter momentum.  The closer the game is, the more detrimental a turnover can be. Multiple Turnover’s would be substantially hindering to the Falcon’s this Sunday against a Cardinals defense that is known to be turnover hungry and has had success against us in  this area over the years.

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26) returns an interception for a touchdown as he runs past Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) in the second quarter of their game at the at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26) returns an interception for a touchdown as he runs past Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) in the second quarter of their game at the at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, Matt Ryan threw 5 interceptions to the Card’s defense in a game in which he made me wonder if he got the the falcon on Atlanta’s helmet and the cardinal on Arizona’s helmet mixed up. The next year, Ryan threw 4 interceptions in a game that seemed as if he still had bird identification problems, maybe because they both were red, I don’t know. In 2014’s game, Ryan threw yet another interception but as you can see, the trend was moving in the right direction. I then realized that maybe it wasn’t that Matt Ryan enjoyed throwing the ball to the Cardinals secondary but that maybe the Card’s defense was just that ball-hawking, just that good.

Despite the Card’s previous success against him, I’ll just say that 2016 Matt Ryan is not the same as 2012’s, 2013’s, or 2014’s version so I wouldn’t expect this year to be like the others. He is much improved and much more elite while the Card’s secondary hasn’t been as dominant as they were then. I’m much more confident now in Ryan and his ability to protect the ball as he only has 5 interceptions on the season.  However, we still can’t ignore the Cardinal’s potential on that side of the ball.

On the other hand, Carson Palmer has 10 interceptions on the season as the Cardinals currently yield a -1 turnover margin in comparison to Atlanta’s +3. It seems as if Vic Beasley is stripping the ball from blindsided quarterbacks each game and hopefully this will continue Sunday against a depleted Cardinal’s O-Line as it would bode substantially well for the Falcon’s. The more chances the Falcon’s offense gets to take the field, the better. The Falcon’s must focus on getting turnovers instead of giving up turnovers and if they do so, which they have proven to do, they should put themselves in excellent position to move to 7-4.

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo (80) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo (80) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

3. Touchdowns vs. Field Goals

We all see how the Falcon’s can slice through a defense easily and move down the field, but essentially what matters is how we capitalize on this offensive fluidity. Do we respond with a touchdown or settle for the field goal? The capability to get to the red zone is one thing. What happens within those 20 yards is another. The Falcon’s have done much better this year inside the red-zone in comparison to other years and the same must continue for this game.

The Falcons were 0-1 in the red-zone against the eagles,1-2 against the Seahawks, 1-3 against the Chargers,  and 1-4 against the Bucs. What do all of those games have in common? They were losses. In these losses, the Falcons failed to get to the red zone as much and when they did, they settled for the field goal most of the time which obviously wasn’t a recipe for success. The Falcon’s  had an average of 66% in red zone efficiency in their wins as opposed to 30% in their losses.

This game should be no different as the Falcons should be able to move the ball down the field but what is going to set them apart is their ability to get touchdowns as opposed to field goals. Same goes with the defensive side of the ball. The Falcon’s have to do a better job defensively in the red zone this week, especially going against double threat, David Johnson. The more we can force Arizona into settling for 3, the greater we can watch our lead grow if we do our part offensively by scoring seven more frequently than scoring three.

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) after Jones made a catch in the first quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) after Jones made a catch in the first quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014’s game, the Cardinals did great against the Falcon’s in the red zone, causing us to have to kick field goals 4 out of our five 5 red zone appearances Julio had a huge game and torched the secondary but many of his big gains were devalued by us settling for field goals. This can be dangerous if this game turns into a shootout or close game. In these instances, the quantity of touchdowns as opposed to field goals can very well be what determines which team comes out victorious.

The Falcon’s should get a huge boost in the red zone this week with Tevin Coleman looking fully healthy coming off of injury. Coleman has been the back expert in punching it in the end zone on top of his ability to move the sticks successfully.

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