The Atlanta Falcons came off of their bye week ready to work. The team is preparing to face the Cardinals in the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
Having spent most of 2015 with Arizona, DE Dwight Freeney knows a lot about its defensive personnel and scheme. He likens the Cardinals' system to Dick LeBeau's "Blitzburgh" D from the 90s, and right now, that approach is serving them well.
By generating a lot of pressure and optimizing a talented secondary, the Cardinals have developed one of the most effective defenses in football. They currently rank first in total yards allowed per game (287.4), first in passing yards allowed per game (190.2), seventh in sacks (26.0) and 10th in points surrendered per game (19.0).
"They're going to be blitzing from every direction," Freeney said. "I was there so I understand exactly what they do from that standpoint. (The offense) will have to be ready for multiple fronts and just be ready for different, various blitz packages. I know those guys pretty well, and they're going to do what they do. We're going to have to do what we do to come out for a victory.
"So really, right now, it's about executing. You're not going to surprise anybody. It's about who executes a little bit better. (That's) who usually wins in late November, December."
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said has Arizona has a strong, aggressive defense, one that tackles well and will use a wide variety of players to blitz — including nickel backs, corners and safeties. He also said he generally shies away from asking players to help analyze his former club but will chat with Freeney prior to Sunday's battle.
Someone else who wants to speak with the veteran pass rusher is RT Ryan Schraeder. Hours after agreeing to a five-year extension with the Falcons, he told the Atlanta media that spending time with Freeney can help him protect Matt Ryan in Week 12.
"Yeah, I'll pick Dwight's brain. I think we've got a big matchup coming up," Schraeder said. "Big defensive front. Those guys are tall. It's going to be fun. They're big guys, they play hard, they play together, they run some unique pressures. They're constantly throwing stuff at you as an offensive line. You have to be able to capitalize."
While Freeney is happy to share his wisdom, most of his focus is on Arizona's offense.
The Cardinals have struggled to put up points of late — they averaged 14.6 points in their last five contests — but the likes of QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald cannot be underestimated. Arizona has a strong ground attack, as well, thanks to second year RB David Johnson, who has 863 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 197 carries in 2016.
"I know they're a little banged up there offensively, especially the offensive line. But they're going to still go out and try to execute their game plan," Freeney said. "They're going to come up here with a good plan. By no means are they, I think, a 4-5-1 team. I think they're better than that. Their record doesn't show how good they are, but they're dangerous, and we have to look at them that way."