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Cardinals-Falcons Preview

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN

STATS Senior Writer

2010-09-17 20:16:35 -

The Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals both had poor offensive performances in their openers, although there were plenty of reasons for the lack of production.

Two teams looking to see their sluggish offenses move in the right direction play Sunday at the Georgia Dome in the teams' first meeting since a memorable playoff game two years ago.

It wasn't surprising Atlanta (0-1) fared poorly in last Sunday's opener on the road against a powerful Pittsburgh defense in a 15-9 overtime loss. Michael Turner was held to 42 yards on 19 carries.

"I think you'll see, throughout the league, the most improvement usually comes between Week 1 and Week 2," coach Mike Smith said. "Fortunately for us, we have a lot of things we can improve on."

It was even less surprising Arizona (1-0) had problems with the ball in its 17-14 victory at St. Louis. Derek Anderson, installed as the starting quarterback after Matt Leinart was released, lost one of four Cardinals fumbles and only found Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald three times for 43 yards.

One of those catches was a 21-yard touchdown with 6:13 left that proved to be the difference. Fitzgerald missed the last three preseason games with a bruised knee and has yet to develop chemistry with Anderson.

"We'll be good," Anderson said. "Obviously not having him for a month or three weeks throws a wrench in things. I don't know how he exactly feels, but the man shows a lot of toughness to go out there and play. I had a knee injury in the past and I know it's tough to trust it and it's tough to do the things that you really want to do."

Arizona beat Atlanta 30-24 at home two years ago in the playoffs en route to its first Super Bowl. The Falcons led 17-14 at halftime before Cardinals nose tackle Darnell Dockett forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown on the first series of the second half to give Arizona the lead for good.

"You know, I felt like we were a better team than those guys, and we just kind of let it slip away," said Falcons receiver Roddy White this past offseason.

Fitzgerald had six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in that contest - the first in the postseason for Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, a Georgia native who starred in college at Georgia Tech. For Atlanta, Ryan and Smith were both in their first seasons at the time.

"I think it has no bearing on it whatsoever, and again, that was a game that was played two years ago," Smith told the Falcons' official website. "Their roster has changed significantly, our roster has changed significantly, so I really don't (think it's relevant)."

The Falcons ranked second in the league in rushing that year before slipping to 15th last season. Turner's production dropped from 1,699 yards to 871 as he was bothered by an ankle injury, and he credited the Steelers as the main reason for his poor output last week.

"We just have come back and clean some things up and just go from there," Turner said. "Everything was not clean out there, but it's not going to be clean out there every time. We still have to make some plays."

Anderson was not helped in his Cardinals debut by running back Tim Hightower, who carried 13 times for 54 yards and lost two fumbles.

Hightower, though, may get another chance to start. Beanie Wells sat out the opener with a sore knee, and will be a game-time decision Sunday. The former Ohio State star led Arizona with 793 yards as a rookie in 2009.

Anderson completed 22 of 41 passes for 297 yards despite taking a hard hit to his chest in the third quarter.

"I think you have to judge it by how he finished the game and how he hung in there," Whisenhunt said.

Ryan completed 27 of 44 passes for 252 yards against the Steelers. White had 13 catches for 111 yards - the eighth-highest total in Week 1.

The Cardinals have dropped their last four visits to Atlanta since a 27-10 win in the 1993 season finale.

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