Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney has the best scouting report on the Arizona Cardinals.
Freeney played 11 games for the Cardinals last season and helped them reach the NFC Championship game.
The Falcons (6-4) are set to face the Cardinals (4-5-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Freeney, who had eight sacks for the Cardinals last season, said don’t be fooled by the Cardinals’ record.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Freeney said. “I don’t see them as a 4-5-1 team. I see them as being a lot better than that. No one should put too much stock in their record. They have a lot of talent.”
The Cardinals lost to the Vikings 30-24 on Sunday despite holding them to 217 yards of offense. The Vikings scored on a 104-yard kickoff return and a 100-yard interception return to power the victory.
The Cardinals were also sloppy, committing eight penalties, and couldn’t protect quarterback Carson Palmer long enough for their deep-passing game to work. Palmer was sacked four times and hit 15 times.
“Offensively, they have had some injuries there, so they have tried to heal up some guys along the offensive line,” Freeney said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge. Guys are going to have to come up with their A game.”
The Cardinals’ defense is led by linebacker Kevin Minter and three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who made the mistake of calling out Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones before their last meeting in 2014.
In the days before the game Peterson said he’d gotten the best of Jones when they faced each other in college (Peterson at LSU vs. Jones at Alabama) and also in their one previous NFL matchup. Jones countered that his teams beat Peterson three out of four times.
Jones’ response: 10 catches (on 12 targets) for a then career-high 189 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 29-18 victory. Unofficially, eight of those for 165 yards came with Peterson in coverage.
In addition to Minter and Peterson, the Cardinals have hard-chargers and solid tacklers in linebacker Chandler Jones (eight sacks), linebacker Marcus Golden (six sacks) and safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon on defense.
“I’ve talked with Dwight several times about pass rushing and things like that,” Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. “I’ve pick Dwight’s brain. We have big matchup coming against a big defensive front. Those guys are tall. It’s going to be fun.”
The Falcons are preparing for the Cardinals’ exotic blitz packages.
“They run some unique pressures,” Schraeder said. “They are constantly throwing stuff at you as an offensive line. We have to be able to capitalize on it.”
After giving up 208 yards rushing against the Eagles, the Falcons expect to see a heavy dose of running back David Johnson, who’s rushed for 863 yards and averages 4.4 yards per carry. He’s also has 47 catches for 510 yards.
“Johnson is a factor not just in the run game, but in the pass game as well,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “For years, they’ve been explosive with the way that they feature their players.”
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the nine-time Pro Bowler, is still dangerous. He leads the team with 74 catches for 749 yards.
“Larry is still playing at a very high level,” Quinn said. “You see all of the targets.”
The Cardinals have won one of their past four games, which includes a 6-6 tie with Seattle on Oct. 23.
“They are able to be very explosive offensively,” Quinn said. “Defensively, they are very aggressive. They’ll pressure with different guys. You’ll see nickel blitzes, corner blitzes and safety blitzes. They’ve got a good package. One that we respect a lot.”
The Cardinals have allowed five runs of 20 yards are or more, which ranks tied for 15th in the NFL. They have allowed only 27 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which ranks seventh in the league.
“When you see a team give up as few explosive plays as they do, you know they are tackling well and that is certainly indicative of their team,” Quinn said.