Each week, if you dig around long enough you can find statistics on an opposing defense that will conjure up fears. This week's opposing D doesn't require much digging.
The Arizona Cardinals are among the best in the league in many defensive categories and the Falcons know it. The numbers that jump out right away are the sacks, points allowed per game and the takeaways. The Cardinals only have one game this season when they didn't record a takeaway from their opponent.
Good defenses have premier pass rushers and the Cardinals have one of the best in Calais Campbell. Although his numbers don't reflect his prowess this season (3.5 sacks this year) he's still getting to and disrupting the QB at a high level. Arizona also has a standout pass rusher at the linebacker level as well, a third-year linebacker named Daryl Washington. This season Washington is sixth in the NFL with eight sacks.
Speaking with the Atlanta media on Wednesday, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team is very excited about their smart, young linebacker.
"He's developed into a good young inside linebacker," Whisenhunt said. "That's what we thought we were getting when we drafted him out of TCU a couple of years ago and he's steadily progressed. I think he's a good fit for our defensive scheme."
The Cardinals are one of the top blitzing teams in the NFL as their 27 sacks (tied for fourth in the NFL) demonstrate. Falcons players said on Wednesday Arizona has blitzed the passer about 40 percent of their snaps this season. Teams can only blitz that much when they have the coverage necessary on the outside and down the field to withstand single coverage.
One player that helps allow the Cardinals to blitz at such a high rate is second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson. The 2011 first-round pick has three interceptions this season and 12 passes broken up. Whisenhunt said what has impressed him the most about Peterson is how he's handled the assignment each week of defending opponents' best receivers.
"I think we've put him in a tough position sometimes because we've had to match him up on some other team's best players and that's never easy," Whisenhunt said. "We've asked him to play a number of different spots, which you're involving different techniques and different study. It's a tough situation. He works hard. He's getting better as a cornerback. I'm very excited about his future. I think he's going to be one of the better players in the league at that position. He's working hard at it."
Coming off the bye with an extra week to prepare, the Cardinals should be ready for Atlanta's offense. They've allowed more than 27 points (Atlanta's average this season) in 2012 only once and that was in Week 9 against the Packers. Armed with a bad loss (actually five straight) as motivation and the extra week to prepare, the Cardinals should be ready, at least Matt Ryan thinks so.
"I think Arizona is one of the better defenses in the league," Ryan said. "… I've been impressed. They've got talented players. They're relentless. Their effort's really, really good. They're going to be very fresh coming off the bye week. We're going to have our work cut out for us."