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Falcons vs. Cardinals 2014: Beware An Opportunistic Defense

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The Cardinals have had considerable success defensively against the Atlanta Falcons,

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

You might have thought we would go the entire week without mentioning that the Arizona Cardinals have Matt Ryan's number. You were mistaken.

In his last two games against the Arizona Cardinals, Matt Ryan has thrown nine interceptions. To put that in perspective, Ryan has 86 career picks, which means the Cardinals have accounted for over 10% of his career total in two games out of the quarterback's 105. You could chalk that up to terrible luck, sure, but I prefer to think it's some ancient Hopi curse inflicted on Ryan for his terrible dad jokes.

The takeaway here is that this Arizona Cardinals defense is not a pushover, and while I don't expect the Cardinals offense to be prolific, their D can easily win them this game. They have 15 interceptions on the season, five forced fumbles and 25 sacks, and seven of those came just last week as the Cardinals took advantage of a weak Seattle offensive line and drilled Russell Wilson repeatedly. The Falcons have mustered halfway decent offensive line play in recent weeks, but that's not going to be enough against this front.

The larger issue is turnovers. Ryan's thrown just nine picks in 12 games this season and has fumbled four times, but he hasn't played many defenses with ballhawks in the secondary like Antonio Cromartie, Tyrann Mathieu, Jerraud Powers and Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals will blitz like mad under Todd Bowles' guidance and count on that potent secondary to swat away or intercept passes. The Drew Stanton-led offense won't be such an active liability if the team grabs a few turnovers, and unless Steven Jackson or Devonta Freeman can get going in a big way, the Falcons probably will be fairly reliant on the pass, and that's not a recipe for real success. It's worth noting that the Cardinals are allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game, too.

To make them pay, Ryan will need to be a hell of a lot sharper than he has been in the last few weeks. He'll need another quality performance from Roddy White, a better day from Julio Jones and (finally) a big pass catching game from Levine Toilolo, given the Cardinals' standing weakness against tight ends.

Don't expect this to be easy, in other words. I don't anticipate Ryan having the same miserable effort he's mustered the last two times out, but the Falcon will need to overcome their very real struggles on offense against a legitimate, smartly-run defense. Keep those expectations modest and hope for the best.