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Falcons offense vs. Cardinals defense: Who wins this matchup?

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After scoring 32 in Houston, can Atlanta repeat the feat in Arizona?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons offense finally scored more than 30 points last week against the Texans. Yet, the running game is still struggling to get going and the offensive line is getting regularly beat like a drum. The Atlanta offense should be capable of scoring more consistently than this.

Whether the issue is with the OC, the players or a combination of both, this Cardinals defense could be a prime opportunity to bounce back. They’re 29th in overall defense, 24th against the pass and 27th against the run. Let’s see how the Falcons match up.

Note: Assessments partially based off of PFF scores.

In the trenches

One of the biggest concerns for Atlanta right now is the play of the offensive line. Jake Matthews has been the most consistent player, but it’s a low bar. Even Alex Mack is having an incredibly rare bad season. James Carpenter and the combination of Jamon Brown and Wes Schweitzer have been struggling in the middle while rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary is getting beat up each week. Welcome to the NFL, rook. This unit has had some tough matchups for sure, but this week isn’t going to get dramatically better.

Arizona has a decent defensive front with former Falcons Corey Peters in the middle. Ends Jonathan Bullard and Rodney Gunter aren’t J.J. Watt, so that should be a nice reprieve on the outside, except for the fact that outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs can still get to the QB. This isn’t a dominant unit — they’re middle of the road in sacks this year — but they have players who can cause problems.

We know that Mack and Matthews can be better. We’ve seen Carpenter play well. The rest of this OL is a big question mark, though and that makes this matchup far closer than it should be.

Advantage: Push

The skill positions

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper should be enough for any offensive coordinator to run the score up. Yet, this talented unit has struggled to put points on the board consistently all year, with the exception of last week. Protecting Ryan is a big key here, but using these weapons sensibly is another. Unfortunately, the running game has been putrid with Devonta Freeman constantly facing stacked boxes due to being forced to run out of 12 and 22 personnel far too often. Predictability, anyone? Ito Smith has had a little more success, but it’s nothing to write home about. The talent is here. It just needs to be used better.

With Patrick Peterson still serving a six-game suspension, the Cardinals corners take a step back in quality. Rookie Byron Murphy and veteran Tramaine Brock are playing OK, but matching up to Jones, Ridley and Sanu will be hard. Safety help is a mixed bag, with rookie Jalen Thompson struggling so far. Budda Baker is playing well, though, and is someone to watch on the backside. Linebackers Haason Reddick is not playing well while Jordan Hicks is good enough. This unit will clearly miss Peterson on Sunday.

On paper, the Falcons out-match the Cardinals here. If Dirk Koetter finally realizes having 3 receivers on the field gives him a great advantage, it could be a long day for the Cardinals defense. If we see a bunch of 12 or 22 personnel on Sunday, someone deserves to be fired.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

Despite the 32-point “breakout” against Houston, this Falcons offense still feels like it’s struggling. The offensive line is a bit of a mess while Ryan has had some dreadful moments early on. That said, it’s clear the talent is there. They need to clean up the penalties and put together game plans that aren’t simple and predictable. If they can do that — and right now that’s a big if — they could get going against the Cardinals D. I think it does happen, though, so give the nod to the Falcons for this one.

Advantage: Falcons