Cards, Falcons hope to make most of matchup of losing teams
Injuries have essentially ruined each team’s season. The Falcons (4-9) have dropped five straight and have the NFL’s worst rushing offense. The Cardinals (3-10) have lost four of five with the league’s second-worst rushing attack. They rank last in scoring and passing.
The Falcons entered Week 1 as a Super Bowl contender after winning the NFC title in 2016 and advancing to the divisional round last year, but they lost three starters on defense and three on offense. Atlanta hasn’t been the same since.
That’s nothing compared to Arizona’s injured list. The Cardinals lost defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, a first-round pick in 2016, to knee surgery this week and have placed 16 players on season-ending injured reserve. Six of them were offensive linemen.
“Injuries and all this stuff happen all the time,” Arizona rookie quarterback Josh Rosen said.
“It’s just that the degree happens to be a little bit more here this particular year. Throughout your football life, you’re always faced with adversity in different forms and fashions. It just happens to be a little bit more. I’ve got to buck up and get ready just a little bit more.”
A few things to know about Sunday’s game:
JULIO JONES vs. PATRICK PETERSON
Two of the best are expected to face off when Falcons receiver Julio Jones, the only player in league history with at least 1,400 yards receiving in five consecutive seasons, faces Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“You’re talking about two of the best at their position,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “Who knows? Two guys that could be future Hall of Famers. It’s going to be a great contest. I know Patrick is excited about the — I don’t want to call it a challenge — but the opportunity to be able to cover Julio.”
Arizona’s defense, Peterson included, has enjoyed some good days with 11 interceptions in its past four games against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Only Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans have more, and they are in the same division as Atlanta.
Jones missed some time this week after getting sent home with flu-like symptoms, but is likely to play.
The difference Rosen and Ryan is substantial.
Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, is an 11-year veteran with a 99-72 record. He has the NFL’s leading wideout in Jones, and if he’s covered tightly, Ryan has the option of looking to first-round pick Calvin Ridley, seven-year veteran Mohamed Sanu or tight end Austin Hooper.
Rosen, the 10th overall draft pick, has a 62.8 rating to rank 32nd among eligible passers. He has yet to top 2,000 yards and has three victories.
Rosen’s star receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, is one of only two players in history with at least 16,000 yards receiving, but had just one catch entering the fourth quarter of last week’s sluggish home loss to Detroit. That’s mostly because the Cardinals had recently lost Christian Kirk, their second-leading receiver, to a broken foot, and Fitzgerald was easier to contain.
Atlanta ranks fourth in passing, but Ryan has been under duress all season and is on pace to finish with a career-high 46 sacks.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn bemoans his team’s minus-4 turnover margin. Atlanta has nine interceptions, five by second-year safety Damontae Kazee. Arizona is worse with a turnover margin that ranks 29th, but Quinn isn’t concerned with opponents.
It’s been an ongoing, unpleasant topic all season for a defense that has recovered just two fumbles.
“Defensively there will be 10 to 12 plays (per game),” Quinn said. “Did you take the shot? Did you make the interception? Did you cause the fumble on the sack?
“Offensively there will be the same. Did you take care of it in traffic? Did you go get the contested catch? It’s during those moments that I want to make sure that’s the strongest indicator of where our focus is. Make sure we’re thinking about the football in all cases.”
KEEP IT CLEAN
Nothing irritates Ryan more than penalties. The Falcons aren’t among the league’s worst offenders, but they’ve made a habit of untimely gaffes. That was the case last week at Green Bay.
“What’s important is how you respond to it, and we didn’t do a good enough job of responding in those situations,” Ryan said. “They’re tough to overcome. Penalties, particularly when you’re on the road, it’s more difficult to overcome those things and keep drives going. So percentage-wise when we get our chances and create those plays, we’ve got to keep them. We have to keep the ball where it is.”
The Cardinals were to leave Friday to get a day to adjust to the time difference. They could use whatever edge that can muster. Atlanta has not been friendly as Arizona has lost eight straight in the Peach State since its most recent win in 1993.