We’ve finally reached the third—and by far most entertaining—preseason game. This year, that game comes against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that—statistically speaking—should have been a lot better than their record last season. This week’s game should provide a much better challenge for the Falcons’ starters on offense than defense.
Hopefully we’ll see the starters play for at least a few series, which makes these statistics a bit more relevant. The Falcons defense looks improved so far, but it’ll be important to measure their progress against an actual starting NFL QB and a pretty talented offensive unit. Matt Ryan and the starting offense should also have a bit of a test against a very good overall defense.
Let’s take a look at how the Falcons and Cardinals compare statistically. All stats are based on the 2016 regular season.
Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Cardinals 26.1 (6th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Cardinals 366.8 (9th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Cardinals 258.5 (9th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Cardinals 28 (11th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Cardinals 108.2 (18th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Cardinals 20 (T-3rd)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Cardinals 41% (14th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (5th), Cardinals 0 (19th)
Once again, as we’ve become accustomed to, the Falcons dominate almost all of the offensive statistics. Atlanta’s absurd 33.8 points per game (1st) blew every team out of the water by far, but it’s even more impressive when you notice that they didn’t lead the league in any other stats. That is efficiency, right there. The only stat the Falcons weren’t top-5 in, however, was third down efficiency, where they were 11th with a 42% conversion rate. Still pretty good.
The Cardinals were also a very good, top-10 offense in 2016. They were 6th in points and 9th in total yards. Arizona was better passing the ball (9th) than rushing (18th), but were actually exceptionally good at running in the red zone with 20 rushing TDs (tied with Atlanta for 3rd). They were average on third downs (14th), and had a flat 0 turnover margin (19th).
Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Cardinals 22.6 (14th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Cardinals 305.2 (2nd)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Cardinals 210.3 (4th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Cardinals 21 (T-8th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Cardinals 94.9 (9th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Cardinals 16 (T-22nd)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Cardinals 39% (13th)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Cardinals 48 (1st)
On defense, the Falcons were not all that impressive in 2016. Although they improved measurably after the bye week, they still ended up finishing 27th in points and 25th in yards. Atlanta was more effective stopping the run (17th) than the pass (28th), perhaps in part due to the large leads the offense would build. They were also below-average on third down (26th), but better at generating sacks (T-16th). The only stat they were better at than the Cardinals was rushing TDs allowed, beating Arizona by 1 (15 to 16).
Arizona was actually a very good defense in 2016 as well. How you can be 9th in offensive yards and 2nd in defensive yards and not get above .500 boggles the mind. Still, on defense they were about average in points (14th). They were top-10 in both passing yards (4th) and rushing yards (9th). Arizona was also above-average on third down (13th) and tops in the league when rushing the passer (48 sacks). This was an impressive unit last season, although they did lose some contributors in free agency (Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson).
I’m still pretty confused as to how this Cardinals team fared so poorly in 2016. Statistics-wise, they should’ve been a playoff-caliber roster. Obviously, the tie didn’t help things, but it must’ve been incredibly frustrating for Arizona fans to see the team put up numbers and not see those numbers translate into wins.
Regardless, this should be a very good test for the Falcons’ starters on both sides of the ball. The defense will get a talented Cardinals offense to practice against, and the offense will get a strong defense to (hopefully) go up and down the field against. It will be very interesting to see how the Cardinals play without two of their primary defensive contributors from last season, and if their offensive line—which was a huge problem in 2016—can improve with some shuffling.
Overall Advantage: Falcons
What do you think about this week’s match-up between the Falcons and Cardinals? Any particular positions or battles that you’re going to be keeping an eye on? Any completely meaningless and random preseason score predictions you need to get out there?