Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
If you had told me the Arizona Cardinals would head into their Bye week at 4-4, I would be extremely content considering how daunting their schedule appeared to be before season’s start. The Cards have a chance to accomplish that very feat going into their week of rest. The Cardinals are fortunate to have gotten some breaks along the road, with many opponents suffering from injuries and failing to play to their full potential. Atlanta has suffered from a wrath of injuries this year and they continue to be nagged by the injury bug as they fly west to face Arizona.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall is listed as doubtful for the game, which means now is the time for youngsters such as Andre Ellington and (perhaps) Ryan Williams to make an impact. The Cardinals came into the season with a plethora of running backs but have failed to make use of them thus far. Considering how poorly Mendenhall has carried the ball, (averaging just 3.1 YPC) his doubtful availability for this game might be a blessing in disguise. Ellington has shown to be a much more explosive and dynamic player. He has the ability to bounce to the outside and scamper past defenders but also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and burst through open gaps. Stepfan Taylor, another rookie, has yet to see significant playing time this season, much like Ryan Williams. Why not give Taylor and Williams a shot? It doesn’t benefit the Cardinals to play a hobbling Mendenhall. Now is the time to distribute playing time to your youthful trio of running backs.
As usual QB Carson Palmer is at the core of the Cardinals’ success this week. Every Cardinals fan is hoping that Palmer can finally have a mistake-free game. Palmer has thrown 13 interceptions this season and only 8 touchdowns. Despite the growing frustration from fans, coach Bruce Arians remains put that Palmer is “his guy.” I’m still waiting for a huge game from All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who is battling a hamstring injury. It’s clear the injury has limited Fitzgerald’s impact on the field but as the ultimate competitor, I expect Fitz to play his hardest and hopefully be productive. Palmer must be careful not to be careless with the football against an opportunistic Falcons’ secondary. The veteran Asante Samuel leads Atlanta’s defensive backfield and you can look for him to try and make a few plays against the mistake prone Palmer.
Arizona’s defense ranks 7th in the league against the run this season, allowing only 97 yards per game. Last week, Atlanta’s run game was virtually nonexistent. Steven Jackson, whom the Falcons acquired in the offseason, has not played since Week 2 but is listed as probable heading into the Week 8 matchup. If he cannot go, expect to see carries split between Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Regardless of who runs the ball, don’t expect Atlanta’s ground game to be a factor in this game. Arizona’s defense is built to stop the run with physical tackles such as Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett lining up against the offense.
The black birds will rely on Matt Ryan‘s arm during the contest against the Cards. Arizona is far less stingy against the pass, allowing allowing over 250 yards per game. WRs Julio Jones, who is out for the season, and Roddy White are both out for the game. Expect to see Harry Douglas, who had a breakout game last week versus Tampa Bay (who hasn’t?), lead the Falcons’ receiving corps on Sunday afternoon. Arizona cannot forget about the lethal TE Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been and still is a premier TE in the NFL. With all the injuries sustained by Atlanta, he is perhaps the most dangerous weapon the team possesses.
The Cardinals have a golden opportunity to head into their bye week at .500 and remain in contention for a playoff birth in the competitive NFC. Behind a rowdy home crowd, I expect Bird Gang to play hard and hopefully mistake free. If they can limit their turnovers and turn red-zone possessions into six points, Arizona will walk away victorious.