September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) before the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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The wait is almost over.
The bye week for the Atlanta Falcons is winding to an end and it came at an opportune time. Injuries began to mount as key players such as running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring) and cornerback Desmond Trufant (shoulder) nursing injuries and missing significant time.
The Falcons suffered a 24-15 loss on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 10 that resulted in the 6-4 record for Atlanta. The loss to the Eagles was not earth-shattering by any means. The Eagles are a team that has more talent than their record will show. Believe it or not, some good did come from the matchup with the Eagles. Strong safety Keanu Neal made his presence known in a big way, defensive end Vic Beasley continued to make plays, and even game planning to “shutdown” Julio Jones was not very much successful.
So now the Falcons move on to the 4-5-1 Arizona Cardinals who themselves are coming off a road loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week. The Cardinals are another team in which you as the fan/viewer should disregard the record. There is plenty of talent on the team and they participated in the 2015 NFC Championship Game for a reason. In order for the refreshed Falcons to find a rhythm and pick up a win over the Cardinals, here are some key tasks to be done.
Sep 3, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) is introduced before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
3. Pick Off Palmer
It’s quite clear when watching Arizona Cardinals games that starting quarterback Carson Palmer is not the passer we saw in the 2015 and one of the biggest issues this season that Palmer has encountered is a knack for throwing interceptions.
So far on the season, Palmer has tossed 10 interceptions in 10 games played this season after throwing just 11 all of last season. In his last three games against Carolina, San Francisco, and Minnesota, Palmer has thrown five interceptions. To put that in perspective, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has tossed five interceptions all season.
Palmer also has a four interception day in week three on the road against Buffalo. As a matter of fact, the Cardinals have only participated in the three road games this season and the veteran quarterback has thrown seven of those interceptions in those contests.
So the point has now been embedded within your mind that the opportunities to get the Cardinals offense off their game is to force the talented but inconsistent Palmer into throwing interceptions. Cornerback Robert Alford and rookie linebacker Deion Jones are tied for the team lead in interceptions and with a Cardinals offense that is predicated off multiple receiver sets, the opportunities will be there for Trufant, rookie slot corner Brian Poole, and at times corner JalenCollins.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
2. Get Back To Offensive Rhythm
Against Green Bay and Tampa Bay, the offense was able to still be the productive, dangerous offense that it has been this season. Against Philadelphia, the offense hit a wall but credit is given to the Eagles because of their tough defense.
The common denominator in each of those games were the absence of Coleman at the running back position, tagging along with starter Devonta Freeman. Granted, not having Coleman has not hurt the offense to an extreme but there is no doubt that the offense can be more lethal with the speedy Coleman in the lineup.
Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
What’s interesting about this matchup with the Cardinals is the amount of athleticism on the defense. Deploying Coleman in the slot/passing game is going to be met with having one of the best free safeties in the game in Tyrann Mathieu defending him as well as strong safety Deone Bucannon.
The point with all of this is that the offense needs to find a rhythm and get back to having defenses guessing. Incorporating no-huddle at times with Ryan, having Coleman and Freeman involved in the passing game, spreading the ball around to Jones, receiver Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu as well as rookie tight end Austin Hooper. When the offense is clicking on all systems and having defenses confused, they are displaying why they are first in the league in scoring per game at 32 points a contest.
Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Power Of The Sack
Possibly the biggest issue for the Cardinals this season, Palmer has been harassed and commonly seen on his back, running for his life, and occasionally, a combination of both.
So far this season, the Cardinals offensive line has given up the third most sacks (31) and the second most QB hits with 79. The Cardinals also have four games in which Palmer has been sacked four or more times, including allowing eight sacks in week eight against the Panthers. In the last four games for Palmer, he has been sacked 18 times compared to just nine for Ryan and the Falcons offensive line.
The Cardinals started a left tackle in John Wetzel who made his first career start on the road last week against the Vikings and a guard in Mike Iupati who is dealing with lower leg injuries.
Of course this is music to the ears of team sack leader Vic Beasley and his 9.5 sacks on the season. Beasley is tied for fourth in the league in total sacks with Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. It seems as if the edge rusher out of Clemson is turning that corner and blossoming as a player.
Other contributions this season such as defensive end Adrian Clayborn providing 4.5 sacks as well as veteran Dwight Freeney with three sacks have been key parts of a Falcons pass rush that has totaled 22 sacks this season after only posting 19 in all of 2015.