Dave Choate: I've always liked and respected Carson Palmer, but it looks like he may be hitting the end of the line. Am I off base, and if not, how is that impacting the offense?
Seth Cox: I have written about it quite a bit, but here are the facts, from my view:
A) Palmer played the best football of his entire career last season as a 35/36 year old. I think it was unreasonable to expect a follow up to that, so his "regression" is actually just more of him just returning to his career averages.
B) The offensive line sucks. Like, not struggling, it sucks. They invested in Jared Veldheer who is on IR, Mike Iupati who is playing on one leg, Evan Mathis who is on IR and D.J. Humphries who is playing like a rookie first time starter. In other words, you have two backups, a career journeyman and a rookie playing with an All Pro on one leg. It has shown, as Carson Palmer has been battered and bruised.
C) The "weapons" that Palmer was blessed with are now just Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. John Brown is trying to deal with a sickle cell issue, Michael Floyd is maddeningly inconsistent and Andre Ellington barely sees the field because David Johnson is so good.
To say, all of this has made for a regression of numbers, but a more realistic look at who Carson Palmer the quarterback is.
Dave Choate: I don't think the Falcons can stop David Johnson, but I assume they'll at least try. How would you go about doing that?
Seth Cox: Make the Cardinals throw the ball, invite it. If you stop the Cardinals early or get on top early, Bruce Arians will lean on what he trusts, and that is the passing game. He is stubborn to a fault at times with that. The best way to neutralize Johnson is to make sure he can't be used carrying the ball. They'll still force touches to him in the passing game, as we talked about it is Fitz and him, but if you want to reduce his effectiveness carrying the ball, get ahead and tempt Arians to let Palmer throw the ball 40+ times a game.
Dave Choate: This is a good defense, at least to these eyes. What are the strengths and who are some little-known players we should be aware of?
Seth Cox: Do people know who Markus Golden is yet? I honestly don't know the national perception of him. He is a relentless worker coming off the edge. He is the perfect and necessary secondary pass rusher. He isn't overly dominant athletically, but he will not stop, he punches you in the mouth every play and eventually the OL gets sick of it.
The Cardinals’ strength is their ability to neutralize the other team in one facet of the game. With the Falcons, they'll probably hedge to the run game, try and make you one dimensional and then lean on the pass rush and one corner to do work. The problem, much like Arizona last year, is Atlanta is firing on all cylinders offensively, so even if they are able to neutralize the run game and Julio Jones (as much as that is possible) they have to be able to stop Sanu, Gabriel, Freeman and maybe even Coleman. It is a pick your poison type of game. We have seen the Falcons win a bunch of games with Julio dominating cause teams made the decision to choke off everyone else, and we have seen the Falcons win games with Julio doing little, because they have so much diversity. It is the "number one" defense in the NFL against the number one offense in the NFL, but I think that ranking for the Cardinals changes after this game, that is how good the Falcons offense is.
Long story to an end, if the Cardinals are able to shut down the running game of the Falcons and force not Julio to beat them, they'll live with the results. As long as their offense doesn't give up a 101 yard pick six and a their special teams doesn't give up a 104 yard kick off return again, they'll keep this game close.
Dave Choate: Simple question with a complex answer: Can Patrick Peterson stop Julio Jones?
Seth Cox: Yes? It will be like when Peterson covers Antonio Brown or even a Stefon Diggs to a lesser extent, in that you don't actually stop them, you just hope to limit the damage. 6/80 and no touchdowns is a good day against Julio, I think that means Patrick won. If he gives up a shorty touchdown, it is a draw, if he gets beat deep, even if it is just one time, Julio won, because it makes everyone cheat the rest of the game. So, can he do it, absolutely, but not in the way we think when we think, "shut down".
Dave Choate: Who wins this game, and what do the Cardinals have to do this off season to get back on track?
Seth Cox: The Falcons, it'll be close if the Arizona Cardinals can find a way to limit turnovers on offense and not let the Falcons get big returns on specials. Even with that last week, the Cardinals had the ball to win the game at the end, but the Falcons offense is the best in the NFL for a reason. They'll be able to get enough going and turn this into an aerial showdown between Palmer and Ryan, and this year, you take Ryan in that.
To get back on track, they have to get healthy, as Falcons fans remember from last year, losing key players on the offensive line is basically a death knell to a season. They have to find a young wide receiver who is consistent opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Those are the keys.
Falcons 27 - Cardinals 21