Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for Atlanta
In the NFL it’s about winning.
That is the sole requisite.
The Atlanta Falcons are in the position of having to find their winning ways after experiencing their first loss of 2012 last week at New Orleans.
It shouldn’t be a difficult proposition for the Falcons who are clearly one of the NFL’s best teams.
That said, they do have some things to work on and iron out in order to return to the win column.
Let’s explore the 10 game keys for Atlanta on Sunday against Arizona.
Hit Arizona in the Mouth
The Falcons have done a good job starting fast on the scoreboard but that is no longer enough.
It's not about the scoreboard, it's not about having a big lead late, it’s about setting the tone and putting serious doubt in the Cardinals’ minds.
The fact that the Cardinals are coming off of their bye week coupled with the Falcons' physical game against the Saints, could lead to a great amount of confidence in Arizona.
The Falcons need to shatter that confidence from the opening kickoff.
Football isn’t always about the numbers. Many times the story is told in what’s hidden behind the numbers.
The story for the Atlanta Falcons is short yet very specific; Atlanta is one of the worst tackling teams in the league.
More specifically, the Falcons are poor at finishing tackles. Players are often in position to make the tackle; they simply do not complete the tackle.
Where the Falcons can make the single biggest improvement in tackling is by running through the tackle rather than continuously leaving their feet.
All too often, Falcons defenders are in the air because they are focused more on delivering the big hit versus simply making the tackle.
Stop the Run
It’s no secret the Falcons have struggled to stop the run; 130 yards per game, ranked 24th in the league.
Point of fact, Atlanta has at times been the salve for opponents' rushing woes much of the season.
To fix the overall problem, the Falcons need to make corrections in their run fits at every level: defensive lineman being driven out of their gaps or rushing too far up-field; linebackers over pursuing, creating cut-back lanes, or getting caught flat-footed and being walled off by the offensive line; defensive backs taking poor angles in their fill lanes.
It sounds like a cliché, but Atlanta’s struggles to stop the run come down to simple fundamentals; being in position and finishing the play.
Double Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald remains one the great talents in the NFL.
He is big, he is fast, he is physical. He is the Cardinals’ difference maker on offense.
Doubling Fitzgerald not only reduces his effectiveness, it further reduces the effectiveness of the quarterback, which is not an area of strength for Arizona.
Fitzgerald is the go-to guy, the number one target. Taking him away will rattle quarterback John Skelton, an already fragile player, forcing him to find other options; a skill he has not mastered.
Blitz Early and Often
Arizona has allowed 41 sacks through its first nine games this season.
Couple that with the Cardinals’ inconsistent, at times dreadful, quarterback play and the opportunity for pressure appears clear.
Atlanta needs to force the issue and make Skelton uncomfortable. He will turn the ball over if given the opportunity.
Protect Matt Ryan
The Falcons must decide that no matter what happens as a result, they are going to protect Matt Ryan.
No stat matters more than the health of your franchise quarterback; no matchup more important than your franchise quarterback versus the opponent.
The Falcons must make the commitment to sacrifice style, yards, points, or field position in order to appropriately and effectively protect Ryan.
If they need to take skill players off the field to add more blockers that is what they should do.
Nothing at all, under any circumstance is more important than protecting Matt Ryan.
It must be done.
Run the Football
While the Falcons have assuredly been poor at running the football this season, the truth of the matter is that they haven’t really been all that interested in doing so to begin with.
The transition from a power run/play-action offense to a pass first offense under Dirk Koetter has somewhat left the run game behind.
The Falcons still run the ball, just not with the same commitment. Koetter needs to make a commitment to the run game so that it can improve.
There is no better game to begin the process than Sunday against Arizona. The Cardinals rank just ahead of Atlanta in overall run defense at 23rd, giving up 126 yards per game.
Feature Jacquizz Rodgers
Jacquizz Rodgers is best suited to be the feature back. He is a one-cut back, meaning he needs one cut to hit the running lane, the style of runner best suited for the Falcons’ current offensive system.
The fact of the matter is that Rodgers is a better back. He provides more speed and athleticism and has produced more big play results than Michael Turner.
Rodgers has the most consistent back in the rotation this season.
He has the best mix of speed, strength, receiving ability and protection skills.
For the Falcons to great the running back position must be a major factor and Rodgers is the best option to ensure that success.
Score Touchdowns in Goal-to-Go Situations
The Falcons have done a masterful job of getting to the goal line this season.
Unfortunately, they have had to settle for field goals far too often.
With the overall state of the Cardinals, Sunday's game provides a very good opportunity for the Falcons to make goal-to-go situations count.
Play Four Down Football
Atlanta needs to not only set the tone of the game, it needs to set the tone for the remainder of its season.
Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter need to have a four-down mindset Sunday.
They need to create opportunities for the offense to be successful each and every chance possible.
They need to re-establish the attack mentality from early in the season and the best way to do so is to be aggressive in appropriate fourth down situations.