Tale Of The Tape: Arizona Cardinals At Atlanta Falcons
- QuarterbackThe Cardinals may have had their express train slowed a bit by the Seahawks in Week 12, but it has not been derailed. The Cardinals are depending on Drew Stanton to take them to the NFC West title and beyond, and he has the accuracy and leadership skills to keep them on track. Stanton is not an elite quarterback, but his teammates and coaches have confidence in him.The Falcons continue to lose winnable games. Matt Ryan led a late fourth-quarter drive that allowed Atlanta to seemingly earn a win over Cleveland, but the defense could not hold off the Browns. Ryan is one of the game’s most accurate passers, but he will lose his concentration when his line is unable to protect him and he is forced to throw on the run.
- OffenseThe Cardinals want to use their running game to set the tone and to take pressure off of Stanton. Andre Ellington is an effective back who has run for 648 yards and is also an effective pass catcher. Larry Fitzgerald (knee) could not play against the Seahawks, but a return here is a possibility. John Brown is an acrobatic pass catcher capable of making big plays. Michael Floyd has dependable hands.The Falcons have one of the best offensive teams in the league – at least on paper. Julio Jones has remarkable speed and athletic ability, but he has not dominated this year. Roddy White is a precise pattern runner with good hands, but he has struggled to play consistently. Veteran Steven Jackson has been a shell of the runner he was earlier in his career.
- DefenseThe primary reason the Cardinals have been such a strong team this season is the relentless play of their defense. More than the statistics, head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles have built a defense that comes up with big plays at key moments. Defensive end Calais Campbell leads the Cardinals with 6.0 sacks, while free safety Rashad Johnson leads the team with 70 tackles.The Falcons don’t have the kind of defense that allows them to contend with good or even average teams. Atlanta ranks last in yards allowed, and the main reason they are so vulnerable on defense is that they lack size and strength and tend to get pushed around. Linebacker Paul Worrilow has 103 tackles and comes to play each week, but his teammates rarely support him.
- Special TeamsThe Cardinals have done a decent job of covering kickoffs and punts, but they have been vulnerable in that area from time to time. Explosive Ted Ginn gives them a viable threat in the return game. Rookie placekicker Chandler Catanzaro has made 18-of-20 FG attempts.The Falcons have performed adequately on special teams and they rarely give up a big return. Devin Hester had a punt return for a score in Week Three, but he has not done much since them. Matt Bryant is an elite kicker who has made 17-of-19 FG attempts this season.
The Cardinals have been a tough, consistent and talented team all year, and they are not likely to let this game slip through their fingers. Even if the Falcons managed to play well for 60 minutes, head coach Mike Smith struggles in game management and his decision making has cost the team this season. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports