Who Has The Edge? (Position Grid)  

 

Falcons' running game might be too much for Cardinals

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Matt Ryan, the newly minted Offensive Rookie of the Year, is smart, efficient and has displayed the moxie of a seven-year veteran. His stats won't blow you over, but his leadership is outstanding. However, in Ryan's past three games, he completed just 56 percent of his passes. No matter; Atlanta still won.

Michael Turner, the league's No. 2 rusher behind Adrian Peterson, rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns, and has been the Falcons' MVP. Concerns about his durability have been discarded following a December output of 491 yards and four TDs. He is getting stronger. Jerious Norwood is one of the NFL's fastest players.

Michael Turner

Roddy White is the Pro Bowl receiver who enters the game being overlooked. White is a combination of Arizona's lethal tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. He's big, fast and can make the tough catch. Deep-threat Michael Jenkins benefits from double-teams on White. Harry Douglas is a tough slot receiver with fly-paper hands.

Todd McClure could be the league's most underrated center. From guard to guard, Atlanta can move the pile against the run. RT Tyson Clabo is regarded as one of the nastier players in the NFL. LT Todd Weiner's mobility is limited, but that won't stop the Falcons from using him as a blocking tight end, especially now that rookie Sam Baker is healthy.

Todd McClure

Falcons DE John Abraham, arguably the top pass rusher at his position, plays mainly in passing situations, which means he might play more than he has all season. Abraham, who had 16.5 sacks this season, is a huge key in this game. Atlanta's tackles are solid, with Jonathan Babineaux an underrated pass rusher.

John Abraham

The Falcons likely will use a lot of nickel sets, leaving Michael Boley and Keith Brooking, the team's leading tackler, in coverage situations. That is a liability unless they can get a good pass rush. Rookie MLB Curtis Lofton is an emerging masher but he won't have many opportunities against a pass-first opponent.

Keith Brooking

Safeties Lawyer Milloy and Erik Coleman are hard-nosed hitters with more than 90 tackles each. Those totals were accumulated because too many balls were getting to the third level of the defense. LCB Domonique Foxworth is scrappy and solid in coverage. RCB Chris Houston's questionable ball skills have made him a target.

Lawyer Milloy

Atlanta's punt-coverage team set a record for fewest return yards in a season (49). Michael Koenen is a great angular punter. Kicker Jason Elam is one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. Kick returner Jerious Norwood is a potential game-changer.

Jason Elam

Mike Smith has gotten the most out of this team by keeping open lines of communication and having his playoff-tested staff teach, while not being degradingly critical. It's a testament to their ability to maximize players' strength and keep them focused on the task at hand; Atlanta has not lost back-to-back games all season.

The Falcons' running game should be too tough for the Cardinals, although Atlanta has struggled when facing big wide receivers. Arizona has two.

The 37 year-old Kurt Warner threw 30 touchdowns and for 4,583 yards this season. He also minimized his usually high rate of turnovers (14 interceptions, 7 lost fumbles) and got the ball out quickly to avoid sacks. He has played much better at home, with only five INTs. His postseason experience -- Super Bowl XXXIV MVP -- is advantageous.

Kurt Warner

Edgerrin James' 100-yard performance in the season finale showed that he still has something left. He also has playoff experience. Tim Hightower and James could provide enough rushing -- especially in short-yardage situations -- to offset the passing game, especially since the Falcons are vulnerable on the ground.

Edgerrin James

The best group in the NFL. Anquan Boldin could have a big game against Atlanta's smaller corners. His ability to gain yardage after initial contact is a major concern for the Falcons. Larry Fitzgerald's height advantage should allow him to make plays in coverage. Steve Breaston could be the X-factor because so much focus will be on his comrades.

The Cardinals have done a good job keeping defenders off Warner, who has been sacked only 26 times this season. Left tackle Mike Gandy is going to have his hands full with pass rusher John Abraham. Guard Deuce Lutui is an up-and-comer who could be a key lead blocker should Arizona need to churn out some tough yards.

Deuce Lutui

High-energy tackle Darnell Dockett, worthy of a Pro Bowl selection, is a menace who loves to mix it up. Bertrand Berry is a solid veteran at right end who could be the best option to get pressure on Ryan. NT Gabe Watson will have to keep Atlanta's guards off his linebackers, otherwise, the Cardinals could get gashed.

Karlos Dansby is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. he led the Cards with 119 tackles, and had four sacks and two picks. Besides having to try to stuff Turner, he could be matched up against RB Jerious Norwood in passing situations. Dansby has the athleticism to match up well. Chike Okeafor has played well down the stretch.

Cornerbacks Eric Green and rookie Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie are going to get tested, especially early. Their matchups against Atlanta's tall, talented and aggressive wideouts will be tough. Safeties Antrel Rolle and Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson are solid against the pass and run and will have to be conscious of play-action.

Neil Rackers is one of the better place-kickers in the game. The punting game hasn't been as consistent as the Cardinals would like. Kickoff returner J.J. Arrington is a big-time threat, averaging nearly 26 yards a return.

Neil Rackers

Ken Whisenhunt's decision to re-incorporate RB Edgerrin James into the mix showed he is willing to put the best players on the field at the right times. He admitted that it hasn't been easy to keep his easily distracted team focused after it clinched a playoff berth weeks ago, but he seems to have re-focused his team just in time.

The Cardinals have to be relieved to have gotten a win in the season finale, even if it didn't matter in their postseason positioning. They play much better at home than on the road, so they have that going for them.

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