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Falcons vs. Cardinals 2014: Shutting Down The Cardinals Offense In Two Steps

The key to shutting down the Cardinals lies in getting after Drew Stanton and slowing down Andre Ellington.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons don't have an easy game left on the schedule, but oddly enough, the Arizona Cardinals might be the closest one.

That's not to say this will be easy for a clumsy, haphazardly-effective Falcons team. Arizona still has an effective defense and the potential to wreak havoc on offense with Andre Ellington and Drew Stanton, who for all his flaws isn't afraid to take shots downfield, and the Falcons are prone to terrible days against inferior offenses. Yet this has the potential to be the worst offense they've yet faced in 2014.

To take advantage of that, the Falcons need to do two things well. Capitalize on both of these and I guarantee you the game won't be lost by the Atlanta defense.

#1: Pressure Drew Stanton

The Falcons have been getting gobs of turnovers since coming out of the bye, picking Brian Hoyer and Cam Newton three times each over the last two weeks. Both of those quarterbacks are more careful with the football than Stanton, who is a train wreck waiting to happen at all times behind center.

Part of that is Stanton's makeup. He has a big arm, he can be aggressive and he's willing to stand in the pocket to try to prolong plays and make things happen. That makes him susceptible to turnovers, yes, but also to pressure. The Seahawks quite simply shut down the Cardinals offense, in large part because they were able to neutralize Arizona receivers and force Stanton to try to beat their potent defense. The Falcons are not nearly as potent, of course, but they're perfectly capable of creating turnovers.

While no one's anticipating a lot of sacks, the important thing with a risk-enthusiastic, inaccurate passer like Stanton is to force him to rush his throws and try to force those throws into coverage.

The major obstacles here at the team's lack of a consistent pass rush (of course) and the fact that they're now down both Robert Alford and Robert McClain in the secondary, which could give Arizona's receivers some opportunities. Those "explosive" plays that Mike Smith talks about so often are lethal, and Stanton is capable of creating them.

#2: Keep Andre Ellington Bottled Up

When he's healthy, Ellington is a beast, and he destroyed a hapless Falcons defense just a year ago. If the Falcons stopped Stanton and Ellington was healthy, he would be enough to keep the Cardinals in the game, and he'd likely open up opprtunities in the passing game that wouldn't otherwise exist.

You can see where I'm going with this train of thought. Ellington is not healthy, and as a result he's averaged just 3.3 yards per carry this year and just over 2.3 for the last few weeks. The Cardinals are riding him because he's still the best back they have, but despite getting a good carry total each week, he simply hasn't been a factor for them.

Ellington can't run wild against Atlanta, or the team will find themselves in trouble immediately. Bottle him up, put the screws in Stanton and then it's just the not-so-small matter of getting the offense on track.

Again, I don't expect this to be easy, because the Falcons simply are not playing good football and probably aren't going to miraculously start doing so. The Cardinals are a well-coached, smart football team. They're also down a starting quarterback and limping along with a truly limited running back, and the Falcons can attack those weaknesses.

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