Dominant Defense carries Cardinals back to .500 in win over Falcons

After a tough couple of weeks against division opponents, the Arizona Cardinals got their 2013 season back on track in what could have been their best complete performance in a game under head coach Bruce Arians.

An Atlanta Falcons team that has been battling the injury bug all season, had no answer for the Cardinals attack on both sides of the field, fell to a well rested Cardinals team 27-13 on sunday.

However, of you asked head coach Bruce Arians, they game was not won on Sunday.

“This game was won on Monday when I asked the team to come out in pads and we had a training camp practice,” said Arians after the game. “A lot of teams would balk at that. But with our leadership and our veterans, we had the best practice we had all year and it set the tempo for this game and set the tempo for the rest of this season.”

As been the case for much of the year, momentum was gained for the Cardinals behind excellent play by the defense. They got to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan often, sacking him four times and forcing four interceptions (two by Rashad Johnson and one each from Daryl Washington and Tyrann Mathieu) in the game.

“I think that speaks a lot of our defense,” Arians mentioned. “I think coming in they were the least sacked team in the league. We thrive on turnovers and disruptive plays and like I have said, we don’t worry as much about yards as we do points and turnovers and I think we are doing a heck of a job.”

“I think we found our identity,” added Mathieu. “That’s how we want to play every game and hopefully this can carry over for the rest of the season.”

In 85 career games played by Matt Ryan, he has now thrown three or more interceptions in a game just four times. Two of which are against the Cardinals. He threw five against them last season, then four more on Sunday.

“There was a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. “He was under duress. We have to do a much better job in keeping the quarterback clean. We did not accomplish that today. It was a tough day.”

The Cardinals offense also took form in the game with their best display of the season. With Rashard Mendenhall inactive in the game because of injury, one of the stories of the season, rookie Andre Ellington, got the bulk of the carries and made a statement in the game. He had 106 yards on his first six carries which included an 80 yard touchdown run. He finished with 154 yards on 15 carries and the one touchdown in the game. Fellow rookie Stepfan Taylor was involved in the action as well with 38 yards on the ground as well.

“All the credit goes to the offensive line and the receivers,” said Ellington when asked about the big touchdown run. “Without those guys I would not have been able to make that run. They did a great job blocking down field and the lineman opened up the whole for me.”

“When you have a running back and a running game, it helps the quarterback tremendously,” mentioned Arians. “You find long runs in the oddest places. Two great blocks by Larry (Fitzgerald) and Mike (Floyd) sprung him (Ellington) out the back door and with his speed, nobody’s going to catch him.”

The Cardinals were also effective offensively through the air. Carson Palmer did throw another interception in the game, moving his total to 13 on the year, but was able to find Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd early and often which included two first half touchdowns.

At the start of the day, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that a break-up between Fitzgerald and the Cardinals could be in the near future. But as for the play on the field, Fitzgerald caught his 800th career pass of his career becoming the fastest player in Cardinals history to reach that mark. He mentioned after the game that he has kept a ball for each 100 catches he’s had. So a mathematician would tell you that he now has eight footballs displayed at his home.

“Jerry Rice had 1,000 catches by the time he was 30,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “So I am a long way to where I need to be.”

When first looking at the Cardinals schedule before the start of the year, this game was supposed to be the end of a three game gauntlet against San Francisco, Seattle and finishing with Atlanta before the bye week. The Cardinals avoid getting swept in the three games with the win and now after a bye week, see a favorable stretch of games against struggling Houston and Jacksonville in consecutive weeks.

“It’s a lot more fun when you’re 4-4 and you win,” Arians explained with team going into the bye week with a win. “A lot of things would have been said had we lost this game in a lot of different areas but when you’re winning and you win as a team, you can approach the bye week and I don’t think you have to ask your guys to work hard.”