The Atlanta Falcons dropped another embarrassing, mistake-filled game to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9 and now find themselves in a 4-5 hole and out of first place in the NFC South. In theory, Atlanta should have an opportunity to bounce back against the struggling Arizona Cardinals in Week 10...but nothing is ever simple or easy for this iteration of the Falcons.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Cardinals, so I’ve enlisted the help of Arizona expert Seth Cox. Seth is the site manager over at Revenge of the Birds, SB Nation’s site covering all things Arizona Cardinals.
I brought five questions to Seth on a variety of topics, including the return of Kyler Murray and the preferred scenario for Arizona at QB, the struggles of the offense and defense, and a whole lot more.
1. Kyler Murray is set to return this week to a 1-8 Cardinals team that has been far more competitive than the record suggests. What do fans think about Murray’s return? Is there excitement to see if Murray can thrive in the new offense, or is there concern that Murray playing well could spoil Arizona’s chances at the #1 overall pick and a potential new direction at QB?
Seth Cox: I think with how the contract for Murray is structured it would be best if he plays well and they keep a top pick that they can trade for a bushel of picks and build around Murray.
The problem with moving on from Murray is that it accelerates dead cap and then the Cardinals veteran presence next year will be similar to this season. So, if they can find a way to get Murray going in the right direction, then add a couple of solid veterans, and continue to draft well (It is one season under Monti Ossenfort but it was better than any draft Steve Keim has had in five years) then your rebuild will be quicker.
If you move on from Murray, you cut yourself off from free agency in 2024, and you have to take a quarterback early. So, ‘24 is probably a lean season as well and now you have to wonder if Jonathan Gannon and his staff can survive two seasons where they likely end up picking in the top five.
It is imperative to Gannon’s future that Murray plays well because it just solves a big issue and allows them to address a litany of other roster building issues they have stemming from the Steve Keim era.
2. Speaking of the offense, Arizona has struggled to put points on the board through the first nine weeks. What have the biggest issues been for the Cardinals, and what are the team’s biggest offensive strengths?
SC: Talent? When James Conner went out it really change the dynamic of the offense. Josh Dobbs was playing at a quality level, maybe not high end starter but better than league average.
Conner gets hurt and he looks lost, the offense stinks out loud and nothing is working.
Now, with Kyler Murray back and potentially seeing James Conner back, the offense should find their footing again. I say should, because their offensive line could potentially be in shambles, with their starting left tackle, top two left guards and starting right guard all out. It wasn’t like they were world beaters anyway, so going from league average or worse, to not being able to beat out league average and starting is not a recipe for success.
So, what do the Cardinals do well? I can’t tell you because we have not seen anything close to what this offense will be, come Sunday. Hopefully with Murray and Conner back they will be able to run the ball which should help open things up for Murray and the passing game, but that is just a complete unknown at this point. Sorry, I am no help on this one.
3. With the Falcons’ two-headed rushing attack of Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier coming to town, what should Falcons fans expect from the Cardinals’ run defense? Is Arizona capable of slowing down the run?
SC: A good scheme that lacks talent. The Cardinals defense does a nice job of doing their assignments, Nick Rallis and Jonathan Gannon do an excellent job of putting players in a position to be successful, and yet they stink.
A lot of that is just a lack of talent.
They are one of the least invested in defensive units in the NFL, then you add they have a plethora of injuries along the defensive line which was the worst on paper coming into the season and you get what you see on Sunday’s. A unit that is well coaches, well prepared, tries hard, and eventually gets overwhelmed by superior talent.
The one thing we have not seen in about a month is this team play from ahead, so will it be different with Kyler Murray at the helm and will it help the defense out?
If the Falcons get a lead, the ability to grind out yards will start to happen in the second half and they will run at will in the fourth quarter.
4. The Falcons have announced that veteran Taylor Heinicke will make his second start this week. How has Arizona’s pass defense fared thus far, and is this an area that the turnover-prone Falcons may be able to exploit?
SC: I mean, like the run defense, the Cardinals pass defense just lacks dudes. They are fine at a lot of things, but there always ends up being plays where you just go… “Well if they had better players that doesn’t happen.”
That is especially true at cornerback and rushing the passer.
They have a borderline great safety duo in Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, excellent in coverage and great tacklers.
They have a very up and done Marco Wilson, a rookie who has played two games in Garrett Williams and a veteran journeyman in Antonio Hamilton Jr. at cornerback.
Then, the pass rush is a lot of smoke and mirrors, and rotations.
They bring in pass rush waves, with Dennis Gardeck, Victor Dimukeje, Dante Stills, and Kevin Strong with Zaven Collins being the one constant.
If the Cardinals cannot create pressure with their exotic rush packages, then it will be a long day for their undermanned secondary against an excellent Falcons group of skill players.
Unless Heinicke wants to help out.
5. With Kyler Murray’s return and the Falcons being, well, the Falcons, Atlanta is just a 1.5-point road favorite heading into Week 10. What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
SC: I truly have no idea, but I want to hope the Cardinals have a chance just because I have bet against them in every game this season.
We are at first fans and seasons like this suck.
So, I am just going with a hope and a prayer.
Good luck and good health to the Falcons in this one.
Many thanks to Seth for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him @SCoxFB. If you’re in the mood for a Cardinals perspective on things, you can follow Revenge of the Birds at @revengeofbirds.
Looking for more Falcons-Cardinals coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show. You can also find my answer’s to Seth’s questions here.