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Matt Ryan has a Cardinals problem

Matt Ryan and the Falcons are probably glad they don't play in the NFC West; the Cardinals seem to have his number.

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Christian Petersen

Matt Ryan is one of the more prolific passers in the NFL, except when he's playing the Arizona Cardinals. Despite posting huge numbers during the last four seasons and playing his way into the conversation about the best quarterbacks in the league, Ryan has crumbled in his last two games against the Cardinals.

Ryan was intercepted four times during Atlanta's 27-13 loss to Arizona on Sunday and shockingly enough, that performance was better than his effort against the Cardinals last season. He threw a career-high five interceptions against Arizona in 2012, giving him a 1:9 touchdown to interception ratio spanning his last two games against Arizona. He's never thrown more than three interceptions against any other opponent.

What have the Cardinals done to turn Ryan into an interception machine? Here are two reasons for Arizona's success.

Pressure, pressure and more pressure

Ryan, like most quarterbacks, is at his best when he has a clean pocket and time to throw. With an excellent defensive line and plenty of defensive speed, the Cardinals did an outstanding job of harassing Ryan, often times into mistakes. Arizona spent most of Sunday's game in Atlanta's backfield, pressuring Ryan on a ridiculous 28 of 66 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. The Cardinals pressured Ryan on 12 of 47 dropbacks last season. Here is a closer look at how Ryan's fared under pressure against Arizona.

Completion % Yards Per Attempt Touchdown % Interception % Passer Rating
Under Pressure 38.2 3.4 2.9 11.8 18.25
Not Pressured 67.1 6.7 0.0 6.8 57.28

Ryan put up just modest numbers when he wasn't pressured, but he was decidedly worse when he was under duress. All of his numbers drop significantly except for touchdowns, where he threw one under pressure, compared to none otherwise.

Force Ryan to throw

A lot of offensive success in the NFL comes when the opposing defense doesn't know what's coming. Whether it  doesn't have the right personnel on the field and a team exploits a mismatch, or it bites on play action, creating some confusion is important. Ryan and the Falcons haven't had the benefit of disguise against Arizona, partly due to Arizona's solid front seven.

The Cardinals are fifth in the NFL in rush defense this season. Atlanta is last in the NFL in rushing and the combination led to the Falcons gaining just 27 rushing yards on 14 attempts. Atlanta rushed for just 58 yards on 24 attempts against Arizona last season. Given Atlanta's nonexistent rushing attack, the Cardinals had the benefit of playing the pass and allowing the defensive line to stop the run.

Arizona scored 21 points in the second quarter, forcing Atlanta to attempt a comeback. Down 15 points at halftime, the Falcons ran the ball just four times in the second half, forcing Ryan to throw 36 times over the final 30 minutes. All four of his interceptions came in the second half.

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