The Arizona Cardinals hope to even their record at 4-4 when they host the Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Let's take a look at this huge matchup for both teams. Neither can afford a loss at this point of the season.
The Falcons need to win this contest as much as the Cardinals do. They've had a rough season injury wise: wide receiver Julio Jones is lost for the season and Roddy White (ankle, hamstring) is expected to miss his second straight game. White has not been healthy all year. Harry Douglas is quarterback Matt Ryan's top WR target now and future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez should enjoy an excellent game for Atlanta because the Red Birds are one of the worst teams in the league in defending the tight end position.
Running back Steven Jackson is expected to play in his first game since Week Two when he suffered a hamstring injury. Don't expect the 30-year-old Jackson to carry the whole load though – Jacquizz Rodgers is a fine chance-of-pace back who is coming off a two TD performance last week against the Bucs. He has averaged six receptions a game over the last three games so the Cards need to be aware of him coming out of the backfield.
Atlanta has struggled defensively this season, ranking 23rd in the league (26.2 PPG). They've also allowed 366.3 yards from scrimmage per game, which ranks 20th overall.
The Cardinals need a victory to regain some confidence heading into their bye week. The big news is that running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe) is doubtful for Sunday's game so rookie Andre Ellington is expected to start. Despite a disappointing game last week, Ellington has had an superb season and has an excellent chance to gain 100 yards from scrimmage. He is very dangerous in the open field but needs to improve his pass blocking in blitz pickup.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has struggled for the most part this season, tossing 13 interceptions to rank second in the NFL behind Eli Manning. He has just one 300-yard game to his credit but will be facing a porous Falcons secondary. Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) is expected to play but how effective will he be? If his hamstring is feeling better, Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and company should enjoy solid games. The Cardinals need to get more production from tight end Rob Housler though.
Defensively, Arizona has allowed just two rushing touchdowns this season. Patrick Peterson should be assigned to Douglas, who is an underrated wideout. Rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu will provide help over the top. The Red Birds will need to put pressure on Ryan, make him hurry his throws, make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. They also have to beware of Gonzalez, who is potent down the seam and in the red zone. He could be the key factor in the game.
Prediction: A Jay Feely field wins it in overtime. Cardinals 23, Falcons 20.
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