WR Larry Fitzgerald (Jim Rogash/Getty)
The Arizona Cardinals postseason begins on Saturday as they host the Atlanta Falcons. Although the Cardinals finished the regular season with a victory, they limped into the playoffs losing four of their final six games. Meanwhile, Atlanta has won five of six and is one of the hottest teams in the NFC. Brad Wilbricht previews this weekend’s Wild Card matchup and examines Atlanta’s roster.
Just one year removed from a disappointing 4-12 campaign, the Atlanta Falcons have surpassed expectations this season and have reached the playoffs ahead of schedule. Led by rookie QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner, Atlanta has erased the demons left by former QB Michael Vick and has thrived under first-year coach Mike Smith.
Ryan has been tremendous from the onset and has even been mentioned as a possible MVP candidate. He’s thrown for nearly 3,500 yards and has tossed 16 touchdowns while completing over 60 percent of his passes. Furthermore, Ryan has maintained a QB rating of 87.7 and has been praised for his leadership abilities in the huddle.
Turner has been just as important to the Falcons’ resurgence and ranks second in the NFL with just under 1,700 rushing yards. He’s rushed for over 100 yards on eight different occasions and surpassed 200 yards rushing twice. Turner’s 373 carries are tops in the league and his 17 touchdowns rank second. In addition to Turner, backup RB Jerious Norwood has proved to be a dynamic weapon out of the backfield. Norwood has totaled 489 yards rushing on over five yards per carry and has caught 36 passes for 328 yards.
After a relatively quiet first two seasons in Atlanta, WR Roddy White has excelled in each of the last two years. He immediately developed a rapport with his new starting quarterback, reeling in 88 passes for 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns. White has now compiled 171 catches for 2,584 yards over the past two seasons. WR Michael Jenkins has provided Ryan with a reliable second option as he’s grabbed 50 passes for 777 yards and three scores.
WR Roddy White
Saturday’s matchup has the potential to be an offensive shootout as two of the top three offenses in the NFC square off. Arizona is racking up 366 yards per contest while the Falcons are averaging 361 yards per game. Atlanta holds a decisive advantage on the ground as they’ve more than doubled the Cardinals rushing output for the year. The Falcons are averaging 152 yards per game rushing while Arizona managed just 74 yards per outing.
On defense, Atlanta has struggled at times this season and has failed to consistently force turnovers. They’re tied for last in the NFC with just 18 takeaways. Although the Falcons are ranked 24th in the NFL allowing 348 yards per game, they’ve limited their opponents to just 20 points per contest. Atlanta’s biggest concern heading into the postseason is its run defense which has allowed 128 yards per game.
LB Keith Brooking is the only player remaining from the Falcons’ 1999 Super Bowl team and leads Atlanta with 102 tackles. DE John Abraham has been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks all year long, compiling 16.5 sacks in the process. The Cardinals’ offensive line will need to account for Abraham at all times in order to provide QB Kurt Warner with sufficient time in the pocket.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org