Cardinals vs. Saints: Takeaways from Arizona's Loss to New Orleans
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It appeared the Arizona Cardinals would keep up with the New Orleans Saints in their Week 3 matchup. On its first drive of the game, Arizona marched right down the field to take the lead, 7-0, on an 11-play, 80-yard drive.
New Orleans answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive of its own before the defenses forced seven consecutive punts.
Drew Brees led another scoring drive to put the Saints up 14-7 just before the half, and it was all Black and Gold from then on.
Here are some takeaways from the ugly 31-7 defeat.
That Offensive Line
These guys suck, plain and simple. There was nothing special about what New Orleans was doing to get to Palmer—the line simply couldn’t stop them.
Levi Brown was beaten handily by Junior Galette multiple times. He ended up with just one sack, but it could have been more. Eric Winston was a statue trying to block Cameron Jordan as well, as the Valley native notched two sacks and three quarterback hits.
Through two games, Palmer had been sacked four times, including just once in the home opener last week against the Detroit Lions. But four sacks Sunday in New Orleans brings up an old issue that apparently is not dead.
If Palmer is to remain healthy this season, changes have to be made to the line. As it is, Winston went down toward the end of the game with some kind of injury.
Palmer Struggles Under Pressure
Coming into Sunday’s game, Palmer had completed 15-of-28 passing for 154 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 39.9 passer rating.
That did not improve, and in fact, it may have gotten worse after his performance against the Saints.
It’s not all Palmer’s fault, as he had little time to dissect the secondary all day. But it goes without saying that he must be better under pressure because that will continue to be the theme as the season drags on.
The line will simply not fix itself overnight.
Run Game Abandonment Hurts
Not that it was greatly successful, but Bruce Arians abandoned the run game too early Sunday.
Rashard Mendenhall was given just nine carries, gaining 29 yards (3.2 YPC). He was unable to get into a rhythm because of the infrequency of his carries, and that hurt the offense.
The most effective running backs were Alfonso Smith (3 carries, 27 yards, 9.0 YPC, 1 TD) and Andre Ellington (3 carries, 19 yards, 6.3 YPC).
Arizona ran the ball 11 times in the first half, and Palmer dropped back to pass 17 straight times to end the half (most coming after New Orleans took the one-touchdown lead).
Relying on the passing game works when the protection is there. It was not there at all Sunday.
Andre Ellington Is Emerging as a Weapon
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One of very few positives from the game was rookie running back Andre Ellington. In addition to his 6.3 yards-per-carry average, he also caught three passes for 36 yards (12.0 YPC) and was the team’s leading receiver in the first half.
Along with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, he tied for the team lead with six targets in the passing game.
This is not meant to take anything away from his performance, but Ellington cannot be used that much when so many other able receivers are out there running routes.
Rob Housler Invisible in Season Debut
It was a poor game all around for the Cardinals, but tight end Rob Housler was especially ineffective in his season debut. He caught one pass for 13 yards and was targeted just three times—one target was a poor throw from Palmer that resulted in an interception.
It’s not the end of the world that Housler was invisible on the field, but it’s certainly not promising from a guy who was supposed to be a breakout player this season. He needs to get it into gear in the coming weeks because his team needs him.
Situational Football Improved—Sort of
The Cardinals started the game 3-of-4 on third downs before going 2-of-9 the rest of the way. The start was promising and led us to believe they would hang, but the way it ended was sad and frustrating.
After not running the ball once on third down the first two games, including six of three yards or fewer, Arians called runs on consecutive 3rd-and-short plays to start the game.
Both were successful.
He called passing plays on the final 11 third downs, including four of 3rd-and-4 or less.
The red-zone offense was a mixed bag as well. The lone scoring drive was the result of a successful red-zone opportunity, but the only other chance they got—at the start of the fourth quarter—ended when Palmer threw his interception while targeting Housler.
Tackling Is an Issue
This area of the defense continues to plague the Cardinals. Many of the missed tackles Sunday were the result of a defender lowering his head and swiping at the feet of the ball-carrier.
That’s fine if you’re a cornerback, but when safeties and linebackers are doing it, that’s a major problem.
Multiple players missed tackles of this nature Sunday, and the main culprit was strong safety Yeremiah Bell. Bell, the 6’0”, 205-pound (no way he’s just 205) defender missed at least three tackles because he can’t consistently wrap up, and it led to many extra yards and first downs.
At what point will these professional football players learn how to tackle properly? Maybe they should all go watch pee-wee players do it because proper tackling is taught at that level.
Improved Pass Rush
It was a good and bad day for the pass rush, as the front seven generated four sacks of Brees. But injuries to outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander threaten what little pass rush the defense had for the remainder of the season.
The extent of their injuries is unknown currently, though speculation would suggest it’s not good at all. Acho sacked Brees once but had his foot in a walking boot after an ankle injury sidelined him in the second half, and Alexander could have the dreaded Lisfranc injury that causes a player to miss an entire season in most cases (again, pure speculation and guessing).
Defensive end Darnell Dockett took advantage of an injury situation of his own, getting to Brees three times while working against undrafted rookie right guard Tim Lelito, who started in place of Jahri Evans.
Tyrann Mathieu Continues Great Start
Throughout the day, he was tasked with covering a tight end who is nearly a foot taller and outweighs him by 80 pounds. He lost those battles, but he did gather his first career interception on the first drive of the second half.
Brees dropped back to throw, looking for wideout Lance Moore. The pass was overthrown into the end zone, and Mathieu was there to pick it off.
He totaled 10 tackles, two for loss, and the interception, and he has taken a firm lead in the race for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.