Falcons at Cardinals
Saturday, at University of Phoenix Stadium. 4:30 p.m.
THE LINE: Falcons by 2.5
TV: Ch.4 (Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth)
RADIO: WFAN-660 AM (Dave Sims, Jim Fassel)
FORECAST: Partly cloudy, temperatures in the mid- to upper 60s with light winds.
Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (13 catches, 162 yards, two TDs vs Falcons last year) returns after resting the last two games with a shoulder injury. TE Leonard Pope left last week’s game with a knee injury and is wearing a brace. NT Gabe Watson could be out with a sore knee, no small factor against Atlanta’s running game. LB Travis LaBoy is iffy after missing two games with an ankle. Falcons SS Lawyer Milloy is trying to get back on the field after a back injury. DE Jamaal Anderson looks doubtful with an ankle. DE John Abraham, who set a team record with 16.5 sacks, is nursing an injured thigh and shoulder.
Falcons RBs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood vs. SS Adrian Wilson and the Cardinal run defense: The Cardinals have been a poor tackling team this year and will have no chance of they do not wrap up Turner, a downhill runner, and the speedy Norwood. The Falcons will be looking to keep the Cardinals’ high-powered offense off the field and Arizona will likely have Wilson, who has excellent speed and instincts against the run, up in the box on early downs.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Falcons CB Chris Houston: Big and physical, Fitzgerald fights for every ball. The Falcons play a lot of two-deep zone and although Boldin is coming back from an injury, it will be difficult to double any of the Cardinal wideouts because Arizona is so deep at the position. This is a big red-zone matchup with Fitzgerald going up for jump balls.
“The Falcons rushed four and played a lot of soft coverages against the Rams. I expect the same. They’ll try to limit big plays as they test Kurt Warner’s patience. He can make poor decisions and didn’t look sharp last week. The Cardinals dusted off Edgerrin James and returned him to the feature back role last week. He had fresh legs. The Cardinals have been good in the red zone this year, which is key against the Falcons, who give up yards between the 20s. Matt Ryan may not have playoff experience but he should be able to count on good pass protection in this game and, once the Falcons can establish a ground game, he will target struggling corner Roderick Hood with his big-play receiver, Roddy White.”
The Cardinals host their first playoff game since 1947 when they played in Chicago, two homes ago. Ken Whisenhunt has changed the losing culture but they still have much to prove. Although they stopped the bleeding against Seattle last week, the Cards were abysmal down the stretch, exposed as a one-dimensional team. Aside from Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James, there isn’t much big-game experience, even when compared to the Falcons. The Falcons, who pulled off a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Mike Smith, have been a tough-minded team and won five of six down the stretch.