Behold, the last game on the 2022 schedule the Falcons are going to be favored in. Welcoming an Arizona squad without Kyler Murray and potentially without Colt McCoy, Atlanta will welcome a fairly shaky offense and a defense fresh off a dispiriting overtime loss to the Buccaneers. Arthur Smith has talked about getting over the hump and snagging a victory, and this is the best chance to do so.
What will Sunday’s matchup bring for the Falcons? It’s time to take a closer look at the Arizona Cardinals.
Falcons - Cardinals comparison
Just two bad teams going out there and having a good time!
The Falcons have cratered offensively despite still running the ball effectively, as they’re simply not scoring that often and their passing attack hasn’t been a true threat since early in the year. The defense has been limiting the damage more of late which is welcome, but they’ve done so without a pass rush and without stopping the run effectively, which makes you question how sustainable that is. They simply aren’t very good right now.
Thankfully, neither are the Cardinals. Without Kyler Murray there’s no dynamism at quarterback, and they’ve allowed more than 24 points seven out of the past nine weeks. Not a lot is going right in Arizona, but they can run the ball fairly effectively and the defense is still dangerous at times, so they tend to keep games pretty close.
You sort of know what to expect here unless Desmond Ridder pops off: Two teams running the ball and limiting the damage from a pair of mediocre offenses, and likely a very tight final score. This is not going to be the best football game you’ve watched this year, not that you’d expect otherwise.
How the Cardinals have changed since the last time Atlanta saw them
Less than the Falcons, but still quite a bit.
The coaching staff is largely the same, Kyler Murray (when healthy) is still the quarterback, and Andy Lee is still the punter. If not for injury, you’d still have terrific safety Budda Baker in the secondary for Arizona, as well. Aside from that, the roster has turned over significantly, with very mixed results. James Conner, J.J. Watt (who is about to retire), Zach Allen, Marquise Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins have been impactful additions, but unfortunately for Arizona no one player has been able to elevate the team this year.
The Cardinals are approaching a fateful offseason, as they gave Kliff Kingsbury a long contract extension, only to watch the team crater this season. Given the tension between him and Murray and Arizona’s seeming inability to get over the hump, they might be best served moving on from the current regime. It’s hard to see that happening given the years and dollars involved, though, so the Cardinals are more likely to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
What lies ahead
If you’re sensing a bit of ennui here, it’s for good reason. Both of these teams have nothing left to play for but pride, and it’s hard to expect a great football game given their respective issues.
Arizona’s injury picture probably dooms them out of the gate here, with Colt McCoy’s return maybe giving them some offensive competence but the loss of Budda Baker likely to hit the defense hard. On top of that, there’s a ton of talent here on paper, but the results have been largely putrid. Like the Falcons, Arizona has been quiet offensively, scoring over 20 points in just one of their last five games, and over that span they’ve allowed over 24 points in four out of five efforts. They’re just not playing well right now, and Atlanta’s superior ground attack, improving passing attack, and not-completely-embarrassing-defense is likely to add up to a pretty miserable afternoon for the Cardinals.
That said, expecting the Falcons to really put the screws to the Cardinals is probably unfair, given their recent level of play. Atlanta has been unable to score effectively for a long time now—all the online slapfights about Marcus Mariota versus Desmond Ridder obscures the fact that neither one has led the team to all that many points for several weeks. Unless the team can discover some red zone magic, they’re likely to top out in the low 20s, which might be enough to win but probably won’t be enough for an exciting afternoon. The defense shouldn’t struggle overmuch with Arizona, especially if Trace McSorley is under center, but we know that they’ve allowed too many big plays and big days on the ground and that Conner is a capable back.
The Falcons really want to show us they can finish the year strong, and Arizona is a team they can and should beat at home. I’m hopeful for a win, but the combined ineptitude of these two teams is likely to add up to another close game and stop-and-start day for Atlanta. We’ll take it if they can show meaningful progress, especially through the air.
Be sure to check this space all week for all our Falcons-Cardinals coverage!