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Five Keys: Falcons vs. Cardinals


The last time the Falcons met the Cardinals it was 2008 and it was the playoffs.

After a surprising run to an 11-5 finish, the Falcons fell to Arizona 30-24 in the wild-card round. This time around, there are many things different about both teams, and for that reason the Falcons aren’t thinking revenge.

Instead, they're thinking about not starting the 2010 season 0-2, following last week’s tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Atlanta head coach Mike Smithbelieves the transition from Week 1 to Week 2 can be a positive one for the Falcons.

"I think you'll see, throughout the league, the most improvement usually comes between Week 1 and Week 2," Smith said earlier this week. "Fortunately for us, we have a lot of things we can improve on."

A strong week of practice and the home-opener at the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome mean the Falcons are ready for their Week 2 challenge.

A look at five keys that could ensure a Falcons victory:

Beat Breaston:With the Rams focused on wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in last week's game, Steve Breaston continued to show why the Cardinals' passing attack can still be deadly without departed veteran Anquan Boldin. Fitzgerald was limited to three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, while Breaston gathered seven for 132 yards. Fitzgerald is one of the game's best and he'll manage to get his, but the Falcons will need to ensure Breaston doesn't beat them.

Getting physical:A hard-hitting, urgent defense is what the Falcons believe they have put together. Last week on the road, they showed their toughness and this week that will need to continue. If they can swarm to the ball and hit ball carriers hard, fumbles could be theirs for the taking. Last week the Cardinals fumbled seven times, losing four of them. Forcing fumbles and giving the ball back to the Atlanta offense will stop the Cardinals, keeping the still-dangerous passing attack off the field.

No rush:For 60 minutes of football last week, the Atlanta defense limited the Pittsburgh run game, before running back Rashard Mendenhall broke through in overtime for the 50-yard game-winning touchdown run. The Cardinals' running game isn't as fierce as Pittsburgh's, but the Cardinals will want to run the ball. The return of first-round running back Beanie Wells means a physical back in the game capable of piling up carries and yards. Shutting down the running game will put the onus on quarterback Derek Anderson to throw the ball to receivers he's still developing a chemistry with.

Air it out:Last week, the Rams managed 240 yards passing against the Cardinals. They feature two athletic cornerbacks that could make the deep passing game a challenge, but tight end Tony Gonzalez could still be a focal point in the passing game. The veteran target will likely be defended by Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and by occupying him with Gonzalez, his ability to disrupt the running game will be reduced. The Cardinals' outside linebackers are more skilled at pass rushing, and some middle of the field screen-game work to the running backs could also help open things up for some shots down the field.

On the line:Arizona features a penetrating 3-4 defense with a front three that looks to get into the backfield more than just clog up the lanes. Their two outside rushing linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans will need to be contained. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is a disruptive force and could demand a double team. The Falcons line will need to account for all the pass-rushing options and control the line of scrimmage. Wilson is also a threat to blitz from the safety position and quarterback Matt Ryan will need to know where he is at all times. Opening up some holes for Atlanta to run through will also be critical. A 3-4 defense means fewer gaps available and they'll have to work to open some up.

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