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What to know about the Falcons - Cardinals matchup in Week 6

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NFL: DEC 16 Cardinals at Falcons

2019 Ranks & Records

There’s no sugar tough enough to coat this one: These are two bad football teams. We are likely to see some bad football as a result.

Falcons vs. Cardinals Rankings

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 1-4 20 10 3 28 31 23 20 19 27 24
Cardinals 1-3-1 21 16 17 11 28 29 24 27 29 2

The Cardinals only hold an edge in three areas: Rushing yards, where they have a much more productive attack than Atlanta; points against, where they’re just ahead of Atlanta’s very crummy number; and turnovers allowed, where they’re one of the league’s better teams about avoiding costly mistakes. The Cardinals have also one of the league’s stingiest defenses in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed, but that’s more than erased by their terrible number against the pass, where they’re tied with Atlanta (who else?) with 12 touchdowns allowed.

The picture you’re likely to get from this is that the Falcons and Cardinals are pretty evenly matched in terms of playing some darn terrible football, and that’s a pretty accurate picture. Arizona is extremely banged up, but even if they weren’t they have one of the least talented rosters in football from top to bottom, something they’ll address over the next couple of years as they try to become a contender on Kyler Murray’s rookie contract. They are unlikely to play better than .500 football this year, and even that feels like a stretch.

The homefield advantage has not been here for Arizona, which is just 0-2-1 in the cozy confines of the desert this year. If you were to just look at Atlanta’s team without knowing how they’d done this year and do the same with the Cardinals, you would assume the Falcons were going to blow them out of the water. Given how evenly matched their actual performance has been—and how prone to big passing days the defenses have looked—this is much more likely to be a close shootout than anything else.

How the Cardinals have changed

A lot! They fired Steve Wilks after a single season, bringing aboard Kliff Klingsbury and his love of getting five receivers on the field at once. That meant out with last year’s top ten pick Josh Rosen and in with new #1 overall pick Kyler Murray at quarterback, and that has been the most significant change for this team. Rosen may never get a solid shake from a decent team, but Arizona is now determined to build around Murray, and he’s shown real promise in stretches in 2019. Unfortunately for Atlanta, last week was one of his better games.

Otherwise, the Cardinals did the smart thing for the worst team in the NFL and drafted young pieces and took full advantage of their spot on the waiver wire, adding upside fliers like Jonathan Bullard, Brett Toth, and Cassius March to a defense that has capable pass rushers and not much else. They also dipped deep into their free agent coffers to snag the likes of Robert Alford, Terrell McClain, and a handful of other useful pieces.

Ultimately, though, the success of this team will hinge on Murray, his plethora of receiving options (the Cardinals drafted three and already had Larry Fitzgerald and promising young receiver Christian Kirk), and the upgrades like Zach Allen and Byron Murphy on defense that they hope will turn into great pieces of the next solid Arizona defense. All told, a pretty solid offseason.

What should you know about this game?

It’s Atlanta’s last reasonable matchup for a bit, as they have the still-quality Rams, red-hot Seahawks, and resurgent Panthers and Saints after this. If there is still anything must-win about any game, given how deep in the hole the Falcons find themselves, this is the one that fits the bill.

Arizona is horrendously banged up right now. Their secondary is a train wreck with Patrick Peterson suspended, Robert Alford on the shelf, and other injuries dotting the group, and those injuries are a problem at wide receiver, offensive line, and defensive line as well. The Cardinals could go into this matchup with several players out, and they already are not a good football team.

The problem is that the Falcons haven’t played well enough to beat even bad teams these past few weeks. Atlanta’s secondary is very vulnerable at the moment and the Cardinals love to throw, ratcheting up the chances that a receiver gets wide open and puts a hurting on the Falcons yet again. David Johnson is also a capable back both as a runner and receiver, opening up the possibility of more confusion. It’s fair to worry that this defense will have a very hard time avoiding the kinds of mistakes that have doomed them again and again since Week 3, and while Arizona is not very good, they have more than enough firepower to prey on what the Falcons do worst.

The flip side is that the Falcons should have another fine day on offense. This secondary is an absolute catastrophe, and even Dirk Koetter should be able to figure out how to get guys wide open. They have to worry about the Arizona pass rush a bit, sure, but between the poor Cardinals secondary and the poor Cardinals run defense, this ought to be a get-right game for Matt Ryan and company, even if it only lasts a week.

The Cardinals are the easiest matchup the Falcons have for the rest of the season, away game aside. I consider this season all but over, but it’s worth saying that if they can’t get past Arizona, they shouldn’t be (and won’t be) favored against anyone the rest of the way.