Welcome back to the latest installment of BDTS. After traveling to face the Saints in the Super Dome, the Falcons return home to the Georgia Dome to face the floundering Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt and at this point QB John Skelton. The Cardinals are actually a pretty decent team, that is if you completely ignore their QB and OL situations. It seems head coach Ken Whisenhunt's seat is starting to heat up after consecutive mediocre seasons. Whisenhunt did manage to keep control of the locker-room after a 1-6 start and the team rallied to finish 7-2. However, the lack of a true QB and a plethora of injuries at RB is leaving the Cardinals looking harmless in the early going and by week eleven the Cardinals could be in extremely dire straights. Let's not forget however that teams that are in the dumps love to play spoiler late in the year; so the Falcons should be very cautious when they take the field against Arizona in week 11.
On the hot seat?
When looking at the coaching records it's important to note that the Cardinals under Whisenhunt haven't faced a Mike Nolan led team since 2008 when Nolan was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It's also important to note though that in the first of the two games in which the 49ers faced the Cardinals, the 49ers held Kurt Warner under 200 yards passing, Edgerrin James to 100 yards rushing, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin under 100 yards receiving. When the Whisenhunt led Cardinals last faced a Dirk Koetter led offense the Cardinals did a decent job of stifling the Jacksonville offense. David Garrard was held to 282 yards 2 TDs and was picked once while MJD was held to 66 yards rushing in a game where Arizona QB Kurt Warner broke the single game record for completion percentage. Koetter's passing game did a good job and Mike Sims-Walker had over 100 yards receiving. However, since then the Cardinals defense has changed. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is no longer with the team and the Cardinals leading tackler last year, Daryl Washington was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Looking at the head to head records of the head coaches Mike Smith has the advantage in the regular season picking up the win the one time they faced off in 2010 by a 41-7 margin. Ken Whisenhunt does have a playoff victory over Smith and the Falcons from the 2008 post-season when the Cardinals bounced the Falcons in the wild card round en route to a Super Bowl appearance. When looking at the coaches you can't really give a clear advantage to either side so the talent on each team will play a big role in this game.
The Arizona offense has some very nice weapons in their WR corps. They have the always reliable Larry Fitzgerald and they recently drafted the explosive Michael Floyd in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Cardinals look like a good squad at the skill positions but when you start looking at the offensive lines things start to go from good to bad. Pro Football Focus ranked the Cardinals OL 21st out of all 32 teams, and ranked them 30/32 in terms of pass protection. According to PFF the Cardinals worst offensive lineman last year was Levi Brown. The former first round pick has struggled at times, but he seemed to be finally putting it together down the stretch last year and had looked good so far this preseason. However a triceps injury has potentially sidelined Brown for the season and undoubtley for this contest. Losing Brown will have dire effects for the Cardinals' season and will have an extreme effect on this game. The Cardinals drafted rookie OTs Bobbie Massie and Nate Potter in the fourth and seventh rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft. Massie doesn't have the feet and agility to play left tackle and Nate Potter is still very raw and isn't ready to be thrust into a starting spot at this point in his career. This could be huge news for Falcons defensive ends John Abraham and Lawrence Sidbury. Free Agent acquisition Adam Snyder has struggled at the guard position so far through pre-season, and Daryn Colledge hasn't lived up to expectations since signing with the Cardinals. Right tackle Jeremy Bridges is getting up there in years and is below average at this point in his career. The Falcons and their deep defensive line could give the Cardinals offensive line all kinds of trouble. Fitzgerald and Floyd are a dynamic 1-2 punch, but they can't do much if their QB is consistently under siege. Not to mention that Atlanta has three very good CBs on their team in Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel, and Dunta Robinson. The same holds true for the Cardinals' running game. If the offensive line can not successfully run block then the Cardinals' RBs will have trouble getting yardage against a stingy Falcons front seven headed up by LB Sean Weatherspoon. The QB Situation for the Cardinals is pretty bad as well; Kevin Kolb has been a major bust since being acquired via trade, and even though John Skelton has been able to win games he isn't a consistent starting QB. Overall if Arizona's OL can't control the Falcon's DL the Cardinals could be in for a very long day.
The Cardinals' defense is in much better shape than their counterparts on the offense. Specifically, the Cardinals DL is much better than the Cardinals OL. Calais Campbell is one of the best 5-Techs in the game and Darnell Docket can still give any OL a run for his money. Combine that with a young and improving Dan Williams and the Cardinals have a very dangerous DL. OLB Sam Acho proved to be a play maker, and in his rookie season he brought down the QB seven times and knocked the ball out four times. Sam Baker could have his hands full with Acho, and Atlanta might have to resort to chipping or doubling him. O'Brien Schofield is also a young and promising pass rusher that Atlanta must keep an eye on. Atlanta's OL could really struggle with the Arizona pass rush and DL. Darnell Docket could give the winner of the Garrett Reynolds/Peter Konz competition at RG a run for his money and as I said earlier Baker could very well struggle with Sam Acho. The one LB I haven't mentioned yet is Daryl Washington. He had a very a good year last year leading the Cardinals in tackles with 107, proving to be a force in the run game. If Atlanta can stop the pass rush and open running lanes for whoever the RB will be by this game they could potentially turn this into a blow out win. The Cardinals drafted Patrick Peterson to be their shut down corner, but he's been anything but shut down. In fact they might have struck gold by finding a great returner instead of a shutdown corner. I'm not saying that Peterson can't develop into that type of player, he's just looked far from so far in his career, and he could struggle with the veteran Roddy White and explosive second year man Julio Jones. Either way, the Falcons WR corps is just too deep for Cardinals DBs, and Julio Jones is too much of a mis-match for William Gay.
This game could be a lot closer then people think. It will depend on who controls the trenches on both sides of the ball. If Atlanta can control the lines on both sides of the ball then Atlanta will walk out as winners in a blow out fashion. If Arizona can control both sides of the lines they could pull a potential upset or make it a tight game. If it's split then I believe that Atlanta comes out victors by an average margin. Either way I believe the Falcons have more talent on both sides of the ball and they have a near 100% chance of coming out of this match-up as the winners, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.
Previously on "Breaking Down the Schedule":