Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 23rd meeting. The Arizona Cardinals hold a 13-9 edge in the
series over the Atlanta Falcons, however the Cardinals have dropped three
straight, having been crushed in 1999 and 2001 by nearly identical
scores of 37-14 and 34-14 before giving away a turnover-filled 6-3 decision
in Atlanta two years ago in their last meeting. The most memorable game
in the series from the Cardinals' perspective was a wild 40-37 win on
Nov. 26, 1995 at Sun Devil Stadium.
2006 RANKINGS: Cardinals: offense 15th (22nd rush, 9th pass); defense
26th (18th rush, 28th pass). Falcons: offense 12th (1st rush, 31st
pass); defense 14th (8th rush, 17th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The heat is on Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, who almost
lost his job this week to rookie Matt Leinart after a three-interception
performance against St. Louis. Coach Dennis Green didn't want Leinart
to make his first start in a tough road environment, but Warner must
protect the ball better. Arizona's offensive line, which has started 11
different combinations since the start of the 2005 season, can't hold
protection for long. RB Edgerrin James said this week that he needs the
ball more, and likely will have his wish granted as the Cardinals attempt
to control the clock more on the road. The Falcons lead the league in
rushing and RB Warrick Dun is off to a great start, but look for QB
Michael Vick to try to soften the run defense by attacking the Cardinals'
28th-ranked pass defense with a few deep shots to WRs Ashley Lelie and
FAST FACTS: WR Larry Fitzgerald has 42 catches for 591 yards
and four touchdowns in his past six road games. ... Warner is 6-0 as a
starter against Atlanta. Falcons: Are 13-2 (.867) when Vick has at
least 65 rushing yards. ... Dunn's 310 rushing yards marks his best three
games to open a season.
--RB Edgerrin James wanted the ball more last week, even though he
carried 24 times against the Rams. It might be smart, however, to use
James more as a receiver. He's caught 11 passes this year, but had only
one reception last week.
--QB Kurt Warner has fumbled eight times in three games, losing
three of them. In the past two games, he's had four interceptions. Not all
the problems have been Warner's fault, but it's clear he has to play
--OLB Karlos Dansby appears to be still hampered by a toe injury
that caused him to miss every preseason practice. Dansby is playing in a
reserve role, but he doesn't appear to be nearly as fast or explosive as
--CB Eric Green, who missed last week's game with a groin injury, is
expected to start against Atlanta. Green isn't a great player but he's
much better than his backup, Matt Ware, who was burned last week by
Rams receiver Torry Holt.
--SS Adrian Wilson has as many sacks, two, as the team's starting
defensive line. Defensive ends Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry do not
have a sack yet, although Berry has four quarterback pressures.
--WR Anquan Boldin is on pace to catch at least 100 passes this
season. That's an indication, however, that the Cardinals are passing too
much. Coaches didn't think Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald would catch 100
balls this season. Boldin has 20 receptions for 253 yards and a
--WR Larry Fitzgerald is on pace to catch at least 100 passes this
season. That's an indication that the Cardinals are passing too much.
Coach Dennis Green didn't think either of his top receivers, Fitzgerald
Anquan Boldin, would finish the year with 100 receptions. Fitzgerald has
19 receptions for 250 yards and a touchdown.
INSIDE THE CARDS:
The Cardinals blamed many of their problems last year on injuries,
particularly those suffered on the offensive and defensive lines. But
they don't have that excuse this year and they'll be near full strength
Sunday in Atlanta.
Offensive right tackle Oliver Ross returned to action last week
after missing most of the preseason with a knee injury. The starting
offensive line has worked together for almost three weeks now and signs of
improvement should be forthcoming, provided the players are as good as
coaches think they are.
The defensive line, decimated by injuries last year, is also
healthy, as is the secondary.
The only significant current injured player is outside linebacker
James Darling, who has a strained calf. Darling doesn't start but he
plays an integral role in the team's nickel package, and his replacement,
Darryl Blackstock, is just in his second season.
That defense will be tested Sunday in Atlanta. Two years ago, the
Cardinals did a nice job of controlling Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
The Falcons won, 6-3, but Vick made only one big play all day.
The Cardinals did it by following what coach Dennis Green calls
"Mike Vick rules."
Simplified, the rules include the defensive line staying in rush
lanes in order to keep Vick in the pocket, emphasizing sure tackling, and
everyone running to the ball without over-pursuing. The idea is if the
first guy can just slow Vick down, the backside help will arrive soon.
This week, the 1-2 Cardinals travel to Atlanta to play the 2-1 Falcons. Both teams suffered…