Atlanta (-1.5) @ Arizona
Power rankings: Atlanta 17, Arizona 30
When Atlanta has the ball: The Falcons offense is 24th in both DVOA and EPA/play. They're better running the ball (15th in DVOA) than passing (24th), and that's reflected in their play-calling - the Falcons rank 25th in situation-neutral pass frequency. Frustrations with QB Desmond Ridder's play has led to a promotion for Taylor Heinicke to starting quaterback. Heinicke has dropped back 1,019 times in his 6 year NFL career, completing 63.3% of his passes and gaining 7.0 yards per attempt. Heinicke's issues throughout his career have been ball security, evident by his career 5.1% turnover worthy play ratio, and that's continued this season. Over 66 dropbacks in 2023, Heinicke has a 5.9% turnover worthy play ratio. He tends to hold onto the ball longer than average (2.94 seconds career time to throw), and is not afraid to chuck it deep (8.8 average depth of target), giving his game a boom or bust style. The Falcons top receivers by targets this year: WR Drake London (56), TE Kyle Pitts (50), TE Jonnu Smith (42), and RB Bijan Robinson (38) hightlights their issues at receiver. London missed last week with a groin injury, but his full participation in Thursday's practice suggests he'll be back to play. The Falcons have one of the better offensive lines in football - they have an above-average tackle tandem (Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary), and are particularly strong at the C/RG positions. C Drew Dalman is currently 1st among all centers in PFF grades while RG Chris Lindstrom is routinely one of the best guards in football (Lindstrom currently ranks 2nd among guards in PFF grades). The ground game is a two-headed backfield, with Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson splitting carries. The split is perplexing at best - Robinson is the better back by PFF rushing grade (74.3 to 70.1), YPA (5.0 to 3.2), yards after contact per attempt (3.29 to 2.90), missed tackles forced/attempt (26.2% to 18.9%), and breakaway percentage (24% to 11%). HC Arthur Smith is most famous for not giving a fuck about your fantasy football team, and it shows.
The Cardinals defense is 31st in both DVOA and EPA/play. Going player by player, I would call their defensive line the best unit on the field, but they're still generating pressure at a rate of 24.6%, which is 31st in the league. This is partially due to their aversion to blitzing, their 21.6% blitz rate ranks 29th. They transitioned LB Zaven Collins to edge rusher this season, which is a position that Collins has never played in his life. Although the beginning of the year was a disaster for Collins, he has 10 pressures in his last three games, which includes being held to just 1 pressure against a very good Ravens offensive line in week 8. Meanwhile, Dennis Gardeck and Victor Dimukeje have respectable pass rush win rates of 13.1% and 14.9%, respectively. Things fall apart for the Cardinals at the linebacker and cornerback positions. CB Marco Wilson has played the most coverage snaps for the Cardinals this season, and he's allowing a 80.4% completion rate, 13.9 yards/receptions, and a 132.8 passer rating into his coverage. Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson is a respectable safety-tandem, but it's not nearly enough to cover up the Cardinals defensive woes. They're equally bad against the pass (31st in DVOA) and against the run (30th).
When Arizona has the ball: The Cardinals offense is 27th in DVOA and 29th in EPA/play. The big story is the return of Kyler Murray, who hasn't played since tearing his ACL week 14 of last year. Prior to tearing his ACL, Murray was having his worst NFL season, completing 66.4% of his passes and gaining 6.1 yards per attempt, good for a 67.1 PFF grade. He was putting the ball in harm's way for more frequently than his 2020 and 2021 seasons, and wasn't making up for it with big plays, either. His 2020 and 2021 seasons are what led to his 230 million dollar contract, but back then he had DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. No such receiver exists on the Cardinals. Murray is still only 26 years old, but recovering from an ACL injury is notoriously difficult, and I wouldn't expect much playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football and without a legit receiving threat.
The Falcons on defense are 25th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play. Their defensive line has struggled to generate pressure (27.7% pressure rate, 21st in the league), but they are a menace in the run game. The run game ranks 9th in DVOA (28 against the pass), and 3rd in ESPN's run stop win rate metric. This is largely due to the defensive lineman Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, linebackers Kaden Elliss and Nate Landman, all of whom excel against the run. Onyemata, who primarily plays inside, is also a pass rushing beast, securing 25 pressures and pass rush win rate of 16%. Their issues have come at the cornerback position - AJ Terrell in particular is having a down year, currently allowing a 110.8 passer rating into his coverage while also committing 5 penalties. S Jesse Bates, who the Falcons signed prior to the 2023 season, is one of the better players at his position.