Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons: Final Grades Analysis for Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons host the Arizona Cardinals at 1:00 p.m. ET in a game that will provide the Falcons a chance to bounce back after their first loss of the season. If the Falcons win this game, they will be guaranteed their fifth winning season in as many years.
This matchup features Matt Ryan and Roddy White against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. The Falcons will need to get contributions from their running game and screen game in order to dilute the heavy blitzing of the Cardinals.
On defense, the Falcons will have to contain Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald while also putting pressure on John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. That shouldn't be too much trouble though, as the Cardinals have an embarrassing offensive line.
Stay tuned to this article as we will continue throughout with live game grades, and after the contest we'll go unit by unit grading the overall performances.
LaRod Stephens-Howling had a three-yard touchdown run after an interception set up the short field. Cardinals 7, Falcons 0 with 13:59 left in the first.
Jay Feely hit a 48-yard field goal after a long run by LaRod Stephens-Howling brought the Cardinals to the Falcons 30. Cardinals 10, Falcons 0 with 10:59 left in the first.
Jay Feely hit a 27-yard field goal after another Ryan interception set up a short field. Cardinals 13, Falcons 0 with 1:06 left in the first.
Matt Bryant hit a 51-yard field goal to give the Falcons their first score of the game. Cardinals 13, Falcons 3 with 9:44 left in the half.
After a John Abraham sack-forced fumble, Jonathan Babineaux picked the ball up for a 15-yard touchdown return. Cardinals 13, Falcons 10 with 8:46 left in the half.
Matt Bryant knocked through a 28-yard field goal after Matt Ryan and company took a long drive down to the Cardinals 9-yard line. Cardinals 13, Falcons 13 with 1:56 left in the half.
Jay Feely hit a 38-yard field goal to retake the lead with very little time before the half ended. Cardinals 16, Falcons 13 with 0:32 left in the half.
Matt Bryant knocked through a 48-yard field goal to close the half out. Cardinals 16, Falcons 16 at the half.
Jay Feely hit his 27-yard field goal attempt to bring the Cardinals up 3. Cardinals 19, Falcons 16 with 14:56 left in the game.
Michael Turner takes in the one yard touchdown to give the Falcons their first lead of the game. Cardinals 19, Falcons 23 with 6:42 left in the game.
Cardinals 19, Falcons 23 — Final
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This can break down into three categories: good, bad and ugly. The good is that Ryan led the Falcons to 23 points and multiple scoring drives to go along with 301 yards through the air. The bad is Ryan's 24-for-48 for only 60 percent completion percentage. The ugly is the five interceptions and no touchdowns. This was by far the worst game of his career, and the Falcons still won.
Ryan opened the quarter with a 3-for-4 for 19 yard drive. Then his second drive, he led the Falcons down the field quickly for their first touchdown going 4-for-5 for 64 yards. The third drive ended early with a Sam Acho interception after a tipped ball. However, the final drive kept the ball out of his hands and ended with runs.
On the first two drives of the quarter, Ryan went 4-for-8 for 15 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Ryan finished the quarter throwing it right to Daryl Washington to set up a Cardinals score.
On the drive that closed out the first quarter and finished with the 51-yard field goal, Ryan looked much better. He went 4-for-6 and gained over 30 yards to bring the Falcons into field goal position. For the rest of the quarter Ryan looked like he finally got into a rhythm.
He finished the quarter going 13-for-17 (76.4 percent) for 156 yards and he led the offense to three scoring drives. Ryan also didn't throw any interceptions and brought the Falcons to a score right before the half ended.
On his first two drives, Ryan went 0-for-4 with one interception and no yards. He almost had a second interception as well and has looked completely out of sync. Ryan had a second interception on the fourth drive of the quarter. He needs to get his head back in the game.
Then he had another interception to finish with arguably the worst quarter of his career. He was 4-for-11 (36.3 percent) for 47 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He looked like a rookie quarterback who had never seen a blitz before.
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Despite six turnovers, the Falcons offense was able to move the ball well against a very good Cardinals defense. However, they can't continue to turn the ball over if they want to win against great teams. But getting 23 points and 354 yards on offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league showed they can move the ball on anyone.
Performances of note were Roddy White's eight catches for 123 yards. Harry Douglas had his best game of four catches for 48 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers also had 10 total touches for 51 yards. Even more interesting is that despite the large amount of pressure allowed on Ryan, he was sacked just once all day.
Opening the quarter at their own 20-yard line, Matt Ryan handed the ball off to Jacquizz Rodgers for a four-yard draw. On the second down play, the ball was tipped but could have been a pass interference. On 3rd-and-6 from their own 24, Ryan hit Harry Douglas for the first down and another 12 yards.
Michael Turner took the next play for a one-yard gain but had he actually hit the hole hard, it's a big gain. Matt Ryan hit Roddy White for the three-yard gain on second down. On 3rd-and-6 from their own 40, Ryan hit Drew Davis for a 5-yard gain, but it set up the fourth down and a punt.
Starting from their own 30-yard line, Ryan hit Douglas for an 11-yard gain to open the drive. The next play was a deep pass to Douglas for another 26 yards. Then Ryan hit White at the 15-yard line for another 18-yard gain.
On 1st-and-10 from the Cardinals 15, Turner gained five yards on a run right up the middle. Then on 2nd-and-5 from the 10, Ryan attempted to hit Harry Douglas, but missed high. On 3rd-and-5 from the Cardinals 10, Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez to pick up the first down at the one-yard line.
The Falcons set up a goal-to-go situation from the one. On 1st-and-goal, Michael Turner finally got the push needed to score a touchdown and hit the hole hard to actually get that touchdown.
After the big John Abraham sack set up the punt, the Falcons took over at their own 36. Turner opened the drive with three yards. Then on the second down play, Ryan threw the ball that was deflected and then intercepted by Sam Acho.
The final drive of the game started with a quick one-yard run by Michael Turner. Then on second down, he took it another seven yards. On 3rd-and-2 from the Falcons 32, Jacquizz Rodgers took it eight yards for the first down and the clincher.
After taking over at their own 41-yard line, Michael Turner took the first carry and got no yards on it. On second down, Ryan threw the ball away on what looked like a designed screen. For 3rd-and-10 from their own 41, Todd McClure got called for a false start.
On 3rd-and-15 from their own 36, Ryan threw the ball away but the Cardinals got called for a roughing the passer penalty that gave the Falcons a first down from the Cardinals 49-yard line. After the penalty, Ryan tried hit Roddy White for a deep pass but there wasn't enough air under the ball.
On second down, White caught the ball for a four-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-6 from the Cardinals 45. For the third down play, Ryan hit Jason Snelling for the first down gain. However, Snelling fumbled the ball and the Cardinals recovered.
The play was supposed to be reviewed though because it looked like the Cardinals player who threw the ball back into the field of play was out of bounds when he touched the ball. The play was upheld because Mike Smith threw his challenge flag and then he got called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
On the second drive of the half, Ryan opened up with a short pass to White for a 1-yard loss. Then on 2nd-and-11, Ryan missed a short pass to Turner. On 3rd-and-11 from their own 4, Ryan hit Julio Jones for just four yards and forced the punt.
On the final drive of the quarter, Ryan telegraphed his throw on a bootleg that was undercut by Daryl Washington for his fourth interception of the game.
On a 3rd-and-6 to open the quarter, Matt Ryan hit Roddy White for a 9-yard gain. After a first down run by Jacquizz Rodgers gained two yards, Julio Jones tripped on the route and missed the ball. Tony Gonzalez came through on third down with the crucial catch for the first down to bring it to the 48-yard line.
The very next first down was a play-action pass to Rodgers for three yards. On second down, Ryan missed Gonzalez deep on a play that could have been called for pass interference. Then on 3rd-and-7, Jacquizz Rodgers took a short pass and brought it nine yards for the first down.
Turner looked like he was about to go down at the line of scrimmage but then broke three tackles for a gain of six yards. He followed that up with a three-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-inches. On third-and-short, the Falcons couldn't block the Cardinals defenders and were stopped to set up a long field goal attempt.
The Falcons opened their second offensive drive of the quarter from their own 9-yard line. The first play of the drive was a Ryan quick hit on a deep ball to Roddy White for 37 yards. On the play after the deep pass, Ryan hit Jason Snelling for a quick 4-yard pass.
On 2nd-and-6, Turner gained 10 yards on a draw play right up the middle. Roddy White got another 18 yards on the first down play after the big Turner run to give the Falcons the ball at the Arizona 20-yard line. On first down from the 20, Roddy gained seven more yards to set up a shorter 2nd down play.
For the 2nd-and-3 from the 13, Turner gained enough yards for the first down. On 1st-and-goal from the Arizona 9, Todd McClure looked like he got hurt, and the Falcons couldn't get the ball back to the line of scrimmage.
Harry Douglas was in the backfield on the second down play and on the screen, he gained just one-yard to set up a 3rd-and-goal from the Cardinals 9 at the two minute warning. The third down play was knocked away on a pass to Roddy White and set up a field goal.
On the final drive before the half, Ryan hit Jason Snelling for a 13-yard screen to bring it out to the 33-yard line. Then Jacquizz Rodgers took the next pass for another 18-yards to bring it to midfield. On first down from midfield, Ryan missed Julio Jones on a potential 12-yard pass.
For second down with just eight second left, Ryan hit Julio Jones for 20 yards and set up a quick field goal attempt with two seconds left on the clock.
The first play of the game, Roddy White bobbled the ball and it was intercepted by the Cardinals and brought to the Falcons' 10.
The first play after the interception was a Michael Turner run for no gain. He still isn't hitting the holes hard at all. Then, Ryan attempted a throw to Turner and he dropped it. It's about time to bench him long term. Then on the third play on the drive, Ryan couldn't throw against the blitz and almost threw an interception.
To open the next drive, Ryan finally hit his first pass of the game to Tony Gonzalez for a first down and 12 yards. Then Ryan hit Julio Jones on a quick hitter for eight yards to set up a short 2nd down but then Turner failed to hit the hole hard and got stopped for no gain. On 3rd-and-3, Ryan telegraphed the play to the defense and they tipped it. Ryan got lucky that Jacquizz Rodgers was there to catch it.
The first play after the big stop was a short run by Turner to midfield. On second down, Ryan got hit for a five-yard loss by Ronald Talley on a sack. On 3rd-and-13, Roddy White caught the ball for a first down. He fumbled it but it luckily it went out of bounds.
On first down, Ryan went deep to Roddy White and it looked like he could have been in, but the Falcons didn't challenge it. On second down, the ball got tipped and William Gay intercepted it.
The first play after the second interception was another Turner run, this time for four yards. On 2nd-and-6, Ryan aired the ball out too high on an attempt to Gonzalez. For 3rd-and-6, Ryan threw yet another pick and the Cardinals took it at the 18-yard line.
On first down after the second field goal, Ryan hit Jacquizz Rodgers for a 5-yard gain. Then an illegal motion penalty negated that gain to set up a 2nd-and-10. On that second down play, Ryan handed it to Rodgers for another four yards and to end the quarter.
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41. That's how many passing yards the Falcons got. They also got three sacks. However, after a 13 point first quarter primarily affected by bad starting field position due to turnovers, the Falcons defense scored more points than it allowed for the rest of the game.
They got a touchdown in the second quarter on a brilliant sack-forced fumble by John Abraham that was recovered by Jonathan Babineaux. Then they also were continually forcing three-and-outs all game to create a terrible day for the Cardinals.
The defense took over in the fourth quarter with the ball at the Cardinals 14-yard line for the first drive. Early Doucet gained eight on the first down to set up a short second down. On 2nd-and-2, the defense held Stephens-Howling to just one yard.
On 3rd-and-1 from their own 23-yard line, Arizona attempted to rush it up the middle on the exact same play. However, the Falcons stuffed them to force the punt and yet another three-and-out.
The first play after the kick was a knockaway by Asante Samuel against Andre Roberts. Then on second down, the Falcons held Stephens-Howling to no gain to force a long third down. On 3rd-and-10 from their own 23, John Abraham hit up Ryan Lindley for his second sack of the game and another three-and-out for the Cardinals offense.
After the fifth interception of the day, Ryan Lindley threw an errant pass that was almost intercepted on first down. Then Stephens-Howling took it eight yards to set up another short third down. On 3rd-and-2 from the Falcons 24, they held Stephens-Howling to no gain.
On fourth-and-2 from the Falcons 24, the Falcons stopped the Cardinals by William "C4" Moore knocking the ball loose on the sideline.
Akeem Dent took the first down play and brought down Stephens-Howling in the backfield for a loss. On second down, Larry Fitzgerald got his first catch of the game for a first down. On the next first, Stephens-Howling gained another five yards to set up a shorter second down.
The second down play was a deep pass that was well covered by Robert McClain but overthrown by Ryan Lindley. On 3rd-and-5 from their own 35, Early Doucet got the catch for a first down. On first down, Stephens-Howling gained just two yards.
Then, Ryan Lindley handed it to William Powell for a seven-yard gain. On 3rd-and-1, Powell gained the first down on a sweep to the right side. Then there was another three yard gain by Powell on the next first down.
On 2nd-and-7 from the Falcons 46, Stephen Nicholas got a 14-yard sack to set up an insanely long third down. On 3rd-and-21 from the Cardinals 40, Lindley was forced to throw it away and the Falcos had an excellent stop to end the Cardinals first drive.
On the first play after the terribly called penalty on the fumble, Atlanta held Stephens-Howling for a one-yard loss. Then the Falcons allowed a seven yard catch by Andre Roberts to set up a 3rd-and-3. On 3rd-and-3, there was a pass interference on Rob Housler to set up the 3rd-and-13.
The 3rd-and-14 play from the Cardinals 38, John Abraham harrassed Ryan Lindley in the backfield to force the terrible throw and the three-and-out.
On the first down after the punt, Lindley hit Doucet for five yards. Then on second down, Atlanta stuffed Stephens-Howling for a loss in the backfield and set up a 3rd-and-8. For 3rd-and-8 from their own 40, Atlanta allowed just four yards and forced yet another punt.
On the first play after the fourth interception of the game, the Cardinals ran it up the middle with Stephens-Howling for three. Then on second down, the defense forced another run for no gain. Then on 3rd-and-7 from the Falcons 14, the Falcons held their ground and forced a field goal.
The first play of the quarter was a Robert McClain knockaway on a pass intended for Andre Roberts. On second down, a draw play to Stephens-Howling gained seven yards to set up a short third down attempt. However, the Falcons clamped down on third down and forced a sack and forced fumble.
John Abraham had an excellent defensive play forcing the fumble and Jonathan Babineaux picked up the fumble for a touchdown. However, it was reviewed, and the play stood. The Falcons just made this a game again.
The second drive of the quarter started with an excellent defensive play by William Moore to stuff the ball four yards behind the line. Then Robert McClain stopped LaRod Stephens-Howling got hit for just a two-yard gain to force a long third. On 3rd-and-12, Lindley threw a terrible ball and the Falcons forced another three-and-out.
On first-and-10 from their own 6, the Cardinals took the ball out past midfield for a 52-yard gain. On the play after the run, Michael Floyd caught a 17 yard pass to give the Cardinals the ball at the Falcons 25. After the Floyd catch, the Falcons knocked away a pass attempt to Fitzgerald.
For 2nd-and-10, the Falcons jumped offsides on a play where John Abraham got a sack. On the 2nd-and-5 play, Kroy Biermann knocked the ball away from LaRod Stephens-Howling to set up a third down. For 3rd-and-5, Dunta Robinson knocked the ball away but almost intercepted the ball to set up another field goal attempt.
The first play was started at the 10-yard line and the ball was brought to the 3 on a run by Stephens-Howling. Then the very next play, he got another three yards and brought the ball into the endzone for the first score of the game.
The Cardinals opened up with yet another run and got a huge gain of 40 yards. The Falcons finally stopped the run with an Akeem Dent gap-shooting tackle. Then on a short screen the Falcons held Michael Floyd to just one yard to force a 3rd-and-10. On 3rd-and-10, the Falcons locked down and forced the long field goal.
On first down from their own two, Atlanta stuffed the run in the backfield for a 1-yard loss. For 2nd-and-11, Jonathan Babineaux stuffed him again for no gain. On 3rd-and-11, Atlanta forced a poor throw by Skelton and the three-and-out.
On first down after the second interception, the Falcons defense forced another incompletion. For the second down play, the Falcons allowed five yards on a Stephens-Howling run to set up a short third down attempt. That third down attempt was a pass to Larry Fitzgerald, but Asante Samuel broke it up for a quick three-and-out.
The Falcons lucked out on the first play after the third interception with a bad pass to Fitzgerald. Then there were a pair of runs for nine-yards to set up the short field goal. However, the Falcons should have challenge the third down play as it was a fumble.
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Clean and effective would describe the Falcons special teams units today. Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks gave the Falcons great field position all day with their returns. While Matt Bosher would pin the Cardinals back. Then Matt Bryant was perfect as a field goal and extra point kicker. Just a flawless day by the Falcons ST units.
Jacquizz Rodgers took the first kickoff of the quarter and downed it in the endzone. The first punt of the quarter was fielded by Andre Roberts for a 10-yard gain, and the Cardinals wound up with the ball at their own 14-yard line.
The kickoff after the first touchdown left the Cardinals with the ball at their own 23-yard line. Dominique Franks took his first punt return of the quarter to the Falcons own 36-yard line.
The first return of the half was an excellent one by Dominique Franks. He brought it 28 yards to give the Falcons the ball at their own 41-yard line. On the second return of the half, Thomas DeCoud got flagged for the block in the back, and the Falcons will take over at their own 5.
Matt Bosher punted the ball and then the ball hit a Cardinal. The Falcons picked it up. However, the Cardinals were given the ball at their own 38. The next punt by the Cardinals was kicked into the endzone and the Falcons take over for the final drive of the quarter at their own 20.
Matt Bryant opened the Falcons scoring with a 51-yard field goal that was hit right down the middle and looked like it had distance for another 5-7 yards if need be. On the first kickoff of the game for the Falcons, their special teams stopped William Powell at the 14-yard line for a terrible return.
William Powell had an excellent 65-yard return to set up the ball at the Falcons 35-yard line. Matt Bryant crushed the 28-yard field goal through the upright to tie the game going into the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons hit Powell at the 20, and he brought it out to just the 23-yard line. However, a holding penalty gives the Cardinals the ball at their own 6. To close the half out, Matt Bryant hit his third field goal of the quarter to tie the game up. This one was from 48-yards.
Jacquizz Rodgers took the opening kick to the Falcons 27-yard line to give them great field position to start off. On the first punt of the game, Matt Bosher punted it deep and Patrick Peterson got a great return. However, there was a block in the back penalty and the Cardinals get the ball at their own 30.
On his second return of the game, Rodgers brought it back to the Falcons 22-yard line. At least the special teams are looking good today, Michael Bosher had an excellent kick that was downed at the four and a penalty on the Cardinals brought it to their own 2-yard line.
After the 60-yard Zastudil punt, Franks brought it back 11 yards to give the Falcons the ball at their own 48-yard line. On the next punt by Zastudil, the Falcons made their first special teams mistake allowing the ball to roll within their own 10-yard line.
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This is about the lowest you can get an still win the game. Mike Nolan's defense and Keith Armstrong's special teams played amazingly well this week. However, the offense needs to improve when it comes to finishing drives.
Atlanta also needs to be much more efficient in his challenges. There were two plays early in the game that should have been challenged, and he got called for a penalty for not knowing he didn't have to throw a challenge flag after a turnover.
After finishing the game with the win, it only happened with excellent defensive play by the Falcons and Matt Ryan have the one drive needed to win at a crucial moment. Mike Smith needs to get with Dirk Koetter and figure out that Michael Turner is the wrong back for the offense.
The defensive half time adjustments looked excellent. The offensive ones did too until a terrible call on the fumble play. Smith getting called for an unsportsmanlike conduct is out-of-character but still a misstep.
Despite having a poor first quarter, the Falcons came out and looked like they adjusted early after a poor first quarter. The defense stood up well and even scored more points than it allowed in the second quarter. Mike Smith also didn't have any boneheaded non-challenge calls.
The Falcons came out completely flat today. Both sides of the ball looked out of sync and then Smith didn't challenge two plays that he could have easily won that would have completely swung the momentum of the game. A deep touchdown to Roddy White and a fumble forced by Jonathan Babineaux but recovered by William Moore.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL draft website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.