NFL News & Analysis

ARI-ATL grades: Falcons' offensive line offsets Cardinals' pass-rush in home win

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 27: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons drops back to pass during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome on November 27, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons 38, Arizona Cardinals 19

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from the Atlanta Falcons' 38-19 home win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback grade: Carson Palmer, 68.2

Carson Palmer struggles against Falcons' pass-rush

Pass protection has been a major problem for Arizona this season, and things have only gotten worse for the Cardinals after losing LT Jared Veldheer to injury in Week 8. The Cardinals currently rank 31st in PFF's team pass-blocking grades, and QB Carson Palmer has been hit or sacked 17 times since Week 8. Palmer saw his QB rating drop by nearly 100.0 points under pressure against the Cardinals, finishing 4-for-15 for 58 yards when under duress, delivering the game-sealing interception as he was being hit by Falcons LB Vic Beasley. Arizona’s inability to protect Palmer has also had a major impact on the Cardinals' deep-passing attack, the staple of last season’s dominant offense. Palmer threw for 1,074 yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 96.3 QB rating on passes thrown 20+ yards in 2015, but has thrown for just 369 yards, one touchdown, and a 25.7 QB rating on such passes this season. 

Carson Palmer vs pressure

Top offensive grades:

HB David Johnson, 81.1

WR Larry Fitzgerald, 75.0

WR John Brown, 70.5

QB Carson Palmer, 68.2

LT D.J. Humphries, 65.8

David Johnson continues his incredible season

Cardinals HB David Johnson led the offense with an 81.1 overall grade. Johnson finished with more than 100 receiving yards for the first time this season, and added 58 rushing yards on just 13 attempts. Johnson leads all NFL running backs with 613 receiving yards and 20 missed tackles forced on receptions this season, and may have surpassed Steelers HB Le’Veon Bell as the best two-way running back in the game.

The Cardinals made some changes up front to try and better protect their quarterback, with mixed results. D.J. Humphries held his own in his first start at left tackle for the most part, but had some late trouble with Dwight Freeney. After being destroyed at left tackle last week against the Vikings, John Wetzel was moved to right guard this week, and did not fare much better. Wetzel was responsible for three hits and three hurries in pass protection, and finished with a team-worst 40.9 run-blocking grade. Ulrick John saw his first action of 2016 in Humphries’ old right tackle spot, and looked like a guy that had not played all season. John allowed a sack, a hit, and seven hurries to earn a game-worst 29.6 overall grade. 

Top defensive grades:

DE Calais Campbell, 81.6

S D.J. Swearinger, 81.4

DE Josh Mauro, 75.1

NT Corey Peters, 74.0 

S Tyrann Mathieu, 69.1

Cardinals' pass-rush falters in road loss

Arizona OLB Chandler Jones is having the best season of his career, and currently ranks sixth among all NFL edge defenders in 2016 pass-rushing grade. Jones was invisible in Atlanta however, rushing the passer 34 times without recording a pressure for the first time this season. DE Calais Campbell has also been tremendous this season, trailing only Rams' star Aaron Donald in overall grade among NFL interior linemen. Campbell recorded a hit, a hurry, and three run stops, but was also flagged for an offsides penalty on a fourth-quarter punt play, extending the Atlanta drive and allowing the Falcons to put the game out of reach. CB Patrick Peterson got the better of Falcons WR Julio Jones in a matchup of marquee players but was flagged for two costly penalties and beat deep by Justin Hardy.

Atlanta Falcons 

Quarterback Grade: Matt Ryan, 81.7

Matt Ryan executes conservative passing attack

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan leads all NFL quarterbacks in both passing yards and QB rating (25-for-49 for 939 yards, nine touchdowns, zero interceptions, 136.3 QB rating) on passes thrown 20+ yards this season, but the game plan against the Cardinals was built around getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers on underneath passes. Ryan attempted just five passes of 10+ yards, but the offense was able to consistently move the chains on its way to a 38-point afternoon. WR Taylor Gabriel looked like the fastest player on the field, finishing with four catches for 75 yards (73 yards after the catch) and two touchdowns, forcing a pair of missed tackles along the way.

Matt Ryan vs pressure

Top offensive grades:

WR Taylor Gabriel, 85.0

C Alex Mack, 83.0

RT Ryan Schraeder, 82.9

QB Matt Ryan, 78.1 


LT Jake Matthews, 77.5

Falcons excel in pass protection

Atlanta’s offensive line was at its best against an elite Cardinals' pass-rush, as Matt Ryan was pressured on just seven of his 39 dropbacks. Arizona ranks fourth in team pass-rushing grade for the 2016 season, but could not get near Ryan in the game as the unit allowed just five pressures between them all game. . The Falcons' linemen were not as successful in the run game, but HB Devonta Freeman stepped up with his best rushing grade of the season. Freeman finished with 16 attempts for just 60 yards, but 51 came after contact; he broke two tackles and found the end zone twice.

Top defensive grades:

DT Grady Jarrett, 85.9

LB De’Vondre Campbell, 83.5

DE Brooks Reed, 82.7

OLB Vic Beasley, 82.6

CB Brian Poole, 81.1 


Falcons' relentless pass-rush limits Cardinals’ offense

Atlanta’s defense was able to keep Carson Palmer uncomfortable in the pocket, especially after building a lead in the second half. OLB Vic Beasley (two hits, six hurries), DE Brooks Reed (one sack, five hurries), and the ageless Dwight Freeney (one hit, three hurries) led the way against an overmatched Arizona offensive line. Rookie LB De’Vondre Campbell continues to stand out in pass coverage, earning an above-average grade in that area for the third consecutive game. Campbell was targeted nine times, allowing five catches for 62 yards, and adding an interception and a pair of pass breakups.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Taylor Gabriel

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.


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