At this point into Atlanta's second season with Julio Jones paired with Roddy White at receiver, there aren't many that don't believe the wide receiver duo is one of the best, if not the best, tandem in the league.
This Sunday the Falcons will face one of the toughest defensive teams they've seen all season, featuring a former first-round pick at cornerback in Patrick Peterson. In only his second year in the league, Peterson is quickly becoming one of the better young cover corners in the league. On Wednesday many of the Falcons players were sharing a stat they learned from some of their early film study: The Cardinals blitz about 40 percent of the time.
Arizona makes frequent use of the blitz and head coach Mike Smith said when the team's bus parks at the Georgia Dome Sunday, they'll unload off the bus blitzing. The top blitzing team in the league does so at a cost. White said they're able to blitz with such authority and frequency because they rely on Peterson and his fellow cornerback on the outside, William Gay, to play man-on-man coverage. Matchups like that are what White and Jones feed off of, single-coverage assignments that allows them to exploit their physical abilities.
"They give you opportunities to beat one-on-one coverage," White said. "That's what we've got to do. We've got to go out there and beat press man. They just line up, press and blitz everybody and hope they get to the quarterback and get turnovers."
Beating those two is easier said than done. Peterson this season has been better than most. Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said he typically draws the assignment of the opponent's top receiver and so far this season he's faced the likes of DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin, Stevie Johnson, Michael Crabtree and Randall Cobb. Peterson has been targeted 51 times this season (according to Pro Football Focus) and has allowed 27 catches. He's not given up 100 yards to a receiver at all this season and until Week 7 he didn't allow a touchdown.
Since giving up a touchdown to Harvin (he was only allowed 17 yards) that week he's given up three more. Coming out of the bye, Peterson has three straight games with a touchdown allowed in coverage, including two to Crabtree in Week 8.
Peterson has three interceptions this season to his credit.
Gay doesn't get the credit Peterson does, but he's been solid this season as well. He's allowed 392 receiving yards this year, including games where he allowed 98 and 129 yards. During the middle of the season he was impressive, including two straight weeks where he didn't allow a catch.
Like Peterson, Gay's most recent game was one of his toughest. He allowed his first touchdown of the season, but he also registered his first interception.
It's not often that a team doesn't seem to attempt to cloak its game plan, especially against two dynamic players like White and Jones.
Atlanta seems to know what to expect and it will be up to the offense to protect Matt Ryan and ensure he's got the time to connect with his top two receivers if and when they beat their single coverage.