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Falcons - Cardinals: One reason to feel confident, one reason to worry

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It’s going to be the kind of game where the throws are plentiful, and that’s good and bad news for the Falcons at the same time.

Arizona Cardinals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Feel confident that the Falcons will pass like crazy...and it will work

Matt Ryan is tied for the league lead in passing attempts with 222. He’s tied for second in passing touchdowns, third in completion percentage, and second in yards. Frequently digging out of holes caused by sluggish first halfs and awful defense, Ryan has been throwing it a ton. His zero touchdown game against the Titans was pretty disappointing, for certain, but after tossing five interceptions over the first two weeks, he has six touchdowns and two picks over the last three. Matt Ryan is heating up, as an NBA Jam announcer would say.

The Cardinals secondary is perhaps his most toastable matchup yet. Already relying on a cobbled-together group at cornerback, the Cardinals have lost Patrick Peterson to suspension, Robert Alford and others to injury, and are now starting guys who are barely recognizable to the average NFL fan. They’ve gotten crisped to this point, allowing as many touchdowns as the Falcons (12) and generally looking unable to contain even middle-of-the-road passing attacks.

The Falcons will try to run—you will see Devonta Freeman up the gut on second and long at least once, whether you like it or not—but they’re likely going to have to pass a lot, given that Arizona will be sure to do the same. This is one of the best weeks for Ryan and these receivers to truly go nuts, and I have every confidence they’ll do just that.

Worry that the Cardinals will also pass like crazy...and it will work

The Falcons started off this season promisingly enough, even though that seems like a million years ago. Even on Kirk Cousins’ 10 passing attempts in the first week of the season, he was fine but not spectacular, and they largely shut down Carson Wentz and the Eagles passing game the next week. Since then, though, things have gone monstrously awry.

What worries me about the Cardinals is not that they have an elite passing attack—Kyler Murray isn’t there just yet, and they have a collection of either aging greats or not-quite-elite young guys to throw to—but that they throw so much. Murray is fourth in attempts, behind only Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, and Andy Dalton, and volume is a feature of Kliff Kingsbury’s system, not a bug. When you throw relentlessly against this mysteriously awful Falcons defense, you increase the chances that you’ll spring a Christian Kirk here or a Larry Fitzgerald there and create the kinds of big plays that have been crushing Atlanta’s will for the past three weeks.

In a game where the Falcons should be able to put up gobs of yardage and hopefully points, the Cardinals are likely going to have to pass all day long, especially with David Johnson also potentially on the shelf. If it comes to that, the Falcons pass defense has to be much better than it has been in recent weeks, or the Cardinals have a very good chance to steal this game away.