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3 keys to the game for Falcons’ Week 6 matchup vs. Cardinals

The Falcons are on the road once again looking to pick up a win in the midst of an underwhelming 1-4 start.

NFL: DEC 16 Cardinals at Falcons Photo by Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are in the desert, looking to finding something positive during a disappointing five weeks to begin their season.

Five weeks into the 2019 chapter of the Atlanta Falcons franchise, we’re seeing a team in disarray, which is putting it lightly. The team is coming off a 53-32 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Texans last week, and now turn their sights out west as they look to obtain their second win of the season.

In their path stands a 1-3-1 Arizona Cardinals team that has shown slight glimpses of promise over the course of the season so far, despite their lackluster record. They also picked up their first win of the season last week against the Cincinnati Bengals and have a little momentum on their side, if not anything to write home about.

With the way the Falcons have been playing so far this season, it would be wise to not quite overlook the Cardinals, even with the Falcons being 2.5-point favorites. Let’s take a look at three important keys for the Falcons during their week six matchup with Arizona.

No. 1: Corralling Kyler Murray

Luckily for the Falcons this week, they will square off against an Arizona Cardinals offensive line that is not great by any means and has allowed a considerable amount of pressure to their rookie quarterback.

With that being said, this Falcons defensive front only got a finger on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson last week with only one QB hit and zero sacks. Falcons are dead last in the NFL in sacks with just five and are well below the league average at this point of the season, which is 12. A lot of dice rolling by Falcons head coach Dan Quinn this offseason has come to nothing, with no uptick seasons from defensive end Takkarist McKinley and edge rusher Vic Beasley. That gamble has not paid dividends no matter what angle it is viewed from.

Continuing that same trend of lackluster play against a mediocre Arizona offensive line will only add to the disappointment. This Falcons defense MUST get to Murray, and no, we’re not talking in the form of just pressures and hurries.

NFL: NOV 22 Falcons at Saints Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 2: Red Zone Defensive Efficiency

A key stat that has been a thorn in the side of the Falcons defense all season long. Currently, the Falcons defense is 24th in the NFL in red zone touchdowns allowed, opening the flood gates at a 65% rate. They are allowing close to three red zone touchdowns per game. This comes a season after they were 28th in the league in the same category, but we all know that last year was an injury-plagued one.

To dive a little deeper, the Falcons are 22nd in the NFL in points allowed per red zone trip, averaging 5.15 points per trip. There’s no way around it. The Falcons defense has been woeful in the red zone, to the point where they are almost averaging a touchdown allowed per red zone trips.

With a number of teams averaging roughly four scoring attempts per game, nearly 21 points is being scored every game once opposing offenses are reaching the red zone. Bottom line, the Falcons defensive unit needs to improve in this area and improve considerably.

No. 3: Avoid a slow, sluggish start

This element can be applied to both sides of the ball but I am speaking on the offense in particular here. Rewind back to their week one matchup against Minnesota and a 14-0 first quarter deficit enlarged into a 28-0 lead for the Vikings in the second half. A 13-0 lead led to a 20-3 at halftime against Indianapolis. Before halftime against Tennessee, the Falcons were staring at a 24-7 deficit.

Presently, the Falcons are 28th in the NFL in first half points averaged per game with just 7.4. For an offense that is equipped with their number of weapons, there is no excuse for the group to average just a touchdown in the first half. Coincidentally, the Falcons are 10th in the league in second half points per game. But digging out of deep holes in just about every game is not a formula for success.

Part of this falls on the shoulders of head coach Dan Quinn also, as it often appears that the team is unprepared in the first half. A team that looks mentally broken will rarely prevail when the cards (pun intended) are stacked against them in the early part of the game.