Cardinals' Game Plan for the Atlanta Falcons
Reggie Wells; Edgerrin James (Getty)
Reggie Wells; Edgerrin James (Getty)

Posted Jan 1, 2009


The Cardinals and the Falcons will both have their work cut out for them on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium. There will be some challenging but fun-to-watch matchups on both sides of the ball. Here are key matchups to watch, injury updates and more.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--K Neil Rackers is having a solid season. He's made 21 of his last 22 field goals and his kickoffs have been deep and well placed.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has shown steady progress throughout the season. He has four interceptions and is a threat to block place kicks. Rodgers-Cromartie has great speed, which allows him to make up for some mistakes.

--CB Rod Hood has given up four touchdown passes over the past three games. In almost every case, he's had good coverage. He is slow to find the ball, however, and he hasn't been able to knock it out of receivers' hands.

--RB Edgerrin James will return to the featured back role. James played little after being benched at mid-season. But the Cardinals dusted him off last week and he responded with 100 yards on 14 carries.

--QB Kurt Warner had four touchdown passes last week against Seattle, but he didn't play all that well. He lost a fumble, his seventh of the year, and he had an interception on the last play of the first half.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Cardinals will stick with their strength, the passing game. Receiver Anquan Boldin is expected to play after missing the last two regular-season games with a shoulder injury. His presence will help because the Cardinals receivers need to make plays after the catch. Atlanta doesn't give up many deep passes. The Cardinals need to maintain the threat of the run, too. With two-deep coverage, there will be some room in the running game.

The Cardinals think they have good run defense when they put their minds to it. They point to games against the Giants and Panthers, when they did a reasonable job against good running teams.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson likely will move closer to the line of scrimmage to try and control Falcons running back Michael Turner. The Cardinals corners will need to hold up against receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. Falcons DRE John Abraham -- Abraham set a team record with 16.5 sacks this year and Gandy has struggled some in pass protection lately. Overall, however, Gandy has been solid in his two seasons.

The Cardinals don't give their tackles much help so they won't go out of their way to chip Abraham with a back or to make sure a tight end is lined up on the left side.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Falcons defensive backs: Fitzgerald had not been seeing much man coverage until last Sunday, and he burned the Seahawks for two scores. Most teams bracket Fitzgerald with a cornerback and a safety. That's what the Falcons are expected to do.

Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson vs. Falcons RB Michael Turner: Wilson almost always moves closer to the line of scrimmage against good running teams. He is very fast off the edge and makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. Safety Antrel Rolle also will move into the box at times.

INJURY IMPACT:

WR Anquan Boldin is expected to return after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury.

--NT Gabe Watson might not play because of a sore knee. He missed last week's game and some practice time this week. That means Alan Branch will back up Bryan Robinson. Branch, a second-round pick in 2007, hasn't produced and has much to prove.

--LB/DE Travis LaBoy is still hampered by an ankle injury that caused him to miss the past two games. He might not play, which puts a lot of pressure on Bertrand Berry, his backup. Berry has played well as a role player this year.

--TE Leonard Pope suffered a left knee injury last week and likely will be at least questionable. He is wearing a large brace this week and hasn't practiced. Pope hasn't been playing that well, so there isn't a drop-off in talent between him and Stephen Spach and Ben Patrick.



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WR Larry Fitzgerald (profile)
OT Mike Gandy (profile)
RB Edgerrin James (profile)
OLB Travis LaBoy (profile)
TE Leonard Pope (profile)
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (profile)
DT Gabe Watson (profile)
S Adrian Wilson (profile)
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