It’s been a season of two steps forward and one step back for the Atlanta Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan. They began the season with promise after signing running back Steven Jackson to complement Julio Jones and Roddy White, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora was expected to bolster a pass rush that was near the bottom of the NFL.
But Jones is done for the year with a foot injury, the Falcons are 26th in the league with 14 sacks despite Umenyiora’s solid protection, and White will reportedly miss a second straight game just as Jackson returns from a four-game absence.
Battling a hamstring injury, Jackson will join Ryan as the 2-4 Falcons take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at U of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals are coming off two straight losses to NFC West rivals San Francisco and Seattle, but a victory over Atlanta could mean a .500 or better record heading into a bye for just the second time since 2008.
Atlanta walked away with a 31-17 victory over Tampa Bay despite a 15 minute possession discrepancy, and a mere three third down conversions. Ryan made the most of his short time on the field, going 20-for-26 for 273 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with receiver Hugh Douglas seven times for 149 yards and a score.
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers has filled in for Jackson over the last four games, but has proven more effective catching passes out of the backfield. Against Tampa Bay he totaled eight catches for 46 yards and two scores.
Despite a dwindling number of targets, Ryan and the Falcons are still the ninth highest scoring offense in the NFL (25.5 points per game), and third in passing (306.3 yards)
Arizona remained within striking distance last week down 17-13 to Seattle early in the third quarter, but quarterback Carson Palmer’s two interceptions and 30-for-45 performance stymied a chance at a comeback in the 34-22 loss. The Cardinals also continued their struggles to run the ball, with veteran Rashard Mendenhall notching a team-high 22 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Arizona’s leading rusher hasn’t practiced all week with a turf toe injury.
Ranked seventh overall against the rush in the NFL, the Cardinals also gave up 100-plus yards rushing for the second straight week, after only allowing one team to hit the century mark in Weeks One to Five.
Both teams have secondarys that could use a big boost in confidence. The Falcons have given up 14 passing touchdowns, and four plays of 40-plus yards, earning a 23rd-overall ranking. The Cardinals have a glut of young talent in its secondary with Tyrann Mathieu and interceptions-leader Patrick Peterson, but their 19th with 252.7 yards a game.
On the injury front, Atlanta ruled White out on Friday with nagging hamstring and ankle injuries, along with linebacker Stephen Nicholas and running back Jason Snelling. While left tackle Sam Baker and linebacker Akeem Dent are questionable.
Meanwhile, Arizona might have rested up Mendenhall due to second-string rusher Alfonso Smith missing practice on Wednesday, and Thursday with a hamstring injury.
Point Spread: Arizona favored by 2.5 points.
Over-Under: 45.5 points
Kickoff Time: 4:25 PM Eastern Time
Where To Watch Online: NFL Game Access
TV Channel: FOX
Prediction: Atlanta 24, Arizona 17