When the top-ranked Arizona Cardinals' defense arrived in Atlanta on Sunday, defensive coordinator James Bettcher's unit expected to lock up one of the league's top passing attacks.
Even though the Falcons' offense boasts quarterback Matt Ryan and star wide receiver Julio Jones, Arizona's defense maintained the quiet confidence it has played with for much of the year heading into Sunday's game.
That confidence the Cardinals possessed was stripped early and often by an eager Falcons team that racked up five touchdowns and a field goal in a 38-19 rout of Arizona.
On Thursday of this week, Bettcher said his defensive unit was disappointed by the outcome, specifically because the Cardinals entered the week with the expectation that they would play much better than they did.
"Defensively one of the things we talked about, and really talked about to a really disappointed group of guys who had an expectation that we were going to go play one of the best offenses in the National Football League and we were going to play well, and obviously we didn't," Bettcher said. "Stats say it, the tape says it, the most important thing is the tape said it, but the thing we really talked about is intention vs. direction."
Bettcher's intention vs. direction comment has taken on significant meaning for the Cardinals' defense this week, as it hopes to rebound against a 6-4-1 Washington Redskins squad playing strong offensive football of late.
Bettcher indicated the Cardinals don't lack the desire or ability to make the requisite plays on the defensive side of the ball against high-powered offenses, but said far too often, players aren't matching up their actions with their intent. Bettcher said regardless of what Arizona's players want to accomplish defensively, they have to will those accomplishments by making the right decisions on the field.
"If I don't go the right way, if I don't do the right things, if my eyes aren't up when I'm trying to tackle my keys, it doesn't matter how bad I want to do something, it's not going to get done," Bettcher said.
A week after facing the third-ranked offense in the NFL, the Cardinals will face the third-ranked passing offense in the league as quarterback Kirk Cousins leads a Washington unit averaging 25.5 points per game this season.
Washington will be without tight end Jordan Reed who was reportedly ruled out for Sunday's game on Friday, but the team's top two receivers, Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon, should both stress Arizona's secondary.
"Our guys are excited about the opportunity to play another great offense," Bettcher said. "With these guys, they run the ball extremely well and they're throwing the ball and the thing to me about the pass game, it's very accurate. Completion percentage, high completion throws, will test you in the boot game, maybe push the ball down the field at times."
One of the main factors in Washington's offensive success this season has been its ability to use an effective screen game on first and second downs. Positive yardage plays have helped the Redskins into third and manageable situations, as Washington ranks third in the league in third down conversion percentage with a mark of 47.92 percent.
For Arizona to battle back after a two-game losing streak dropped the Cardinals to 4-6-1, Bettcher said the Cardinals need to take the Redskins out of their comfort zone on offense and force Washington to kick field goals at every red zone opportunity.
"A nice mix of the screen game on first and second down, those are the things that we're going to have to defend on the early downs to put ourselves in good third downs. If the ball is in the red zone, unlike a week ago, we need to force three. Wherever they start a possession, whether it's in field goal range or not, we need to force three."