FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – As the Falcons (4-9) look to snap their five-game losing streak against the Arizona Cardinals (3-10) in their final home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, here are three key matchups to watch:
1. Falcons' offensive line vs. Cardinals' defensive end Chandler Jones
First and foremost, Chandler Jones can get to the quarterback. The 28-year-old has 12 sacks this season. In 2017, Jones finished the season with a league-leading 17 sacks. He's proven he can be a problem for offensive lines to have to deal with since entering the league in 2012. Protecting Matt Ryan will be key for Atlanta's offensive line as they look to get their explosive plays going on Sunday. The Falcons' offense has been at its best when they're able to do two things: Run the ball and create explosive plays. The Falcons won't be able to do that if Jones is able to take over the game and get to Ryan. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Ty Sambrailo will start again at right tackle in place of Ryan Schraeder.
2. Falcons run game vs. Arizona's run defense
There's no question about it – the Falcons want to run the ball better than they have in the previous five games. There was improvement against the Packers last weekend, but in order to the Falcons' offense to be at its best, they have to have balance in the pass and run game. The Cardinals have the 29th-ranked run defense. Ito Smith led the way for Atlanta's running backs with 60 yards on 11 carries in the Falcons' loss to the Packers. Can this be a game where Tevin Coleman gets going? Atlanta's best offensive performance since the bye week occurred against the Redskins where Coleman had nearly 100 yards on the ground.
3. Falcons' cornerback Desmond Trufant vs. Cardinals' receiver Larry Fitzgerald
As Quinn said earlier this week, when you look at the Cardinals offense, it starts with the 35-year-old wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Although Fitzgerald is not having his best season, he's still someone the Falcons will have to account for. Fitzgerald hasn't played great on the road of late, with just two touchdowns in his past 14 road games. He has 52 catches for 563 yards this season. Desmond Trufant will likely be matched up with him throughout the game. After a slow start to the season, Trufant's play has significantly improved over the past few weeks. How will he cover the future Hall of Famer?