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The Setup
Season kickoff. Cards got their QB's back. OL play figured to be better and, as a result so sould our run game. Defense - even with a handful of new faces - should be similar to last year's. Saint offense has been retooled (less emphasis on TE now that Graham's gone); greater emphasis on run game ...Still getting used to unusually high degree of roster turnover. Many offseason plans by NO staff derailed by injuries - most notably at corner.

On a Personal Note -
We never know whether (or when) FoxSports AZ will air Cardinal highlights shows on DirecTV. This time they did. They do a good job of recapping all the high spots of the game (without benefits of game-footage presumably protected as an exclusive - ironically by parent broadcaster, FOX). In any case, it was nice to hear from Jody, B-Train, Glenn, Wolf, Dave Pasch and other members of the Cardinal family - especially after a "W." Keep on keeping it away from Blackout Hell...A special "How do you like us now?" greeting to one Michael Strahan (who listed a Saints win over the Cards as his "lock: for the week). Michael was strangely absent on the FOX poatgame recap show.

The Lede
Cards have enough ammo to prevail over Saints 31 - 19.

The Bottom Line:
The Cards weren't perfect; neither were the Saints. The Cardinal defense was totally mystified by screens and flares by Drew Brees to his RB's and special teams packages shot themselves in the foot an embarrassing number of times with illegal substitution penalties at inappropriate times. But they matched up well with NO in a multiplicity of ways across the entire roster - Carson Palmer was lethal on the opening Cardinal drive. John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and other Cardinal receivers had their way with Saint defenders (forcing their backup corner (Breaux) into four penalties. Darren Fells had a huge game. And welcome to the NFL David Johnson. Defensively, Cardinal run defenders held NO to 54 net yards rushing. Alex Okafor had 2 sacks and Tyrann Mathieu was all over the field.

The two teams played "give and take" for the first three quarters, but the Cards broke away late in the 4th when - ahead by 24 - 19 in an obvious run-down situation -Carson Palmer faked to Brown on an end-around sweep-left , tand then hit rookie David Johnson underneath crossing from left to right. All the 225+ pound running back did was to snatch Palmer's throw and scoot 55 yards for the "W"-icing score. It was a beautifully designed play.

Lots to be happy about (another opening day win. The offense on that opening drive looked like a well-oiled machine). Stuff that needs work (better one-on-one tackling; clean up confusion defending screens, fix substitution follies on special teams). But all in all, an impressive "W." One downer - the injury to Andre Ellington's knee (non-contact/thought to be his PCL. Severity not yet known).

Game Recap
On the very.

1st Quarter
  • Cards received. TB on KO. The Cardinal offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Here's the yardage-gained sequence: Pass: +14, Pass: +18, Pass: +8, Penalty: -10, Run: +18. Scramble; +3, Penalty: +15, Run: -2, Inc., Pass: +10 and a TD (Palmer to John Brown). Cards 7 - Saints 0.

  • TB on the KO. Breen took NO on an 11-play drive which stalled on the Cardinal 19 with Hocker successful from 37. Plays were mainly short passes and runs. Key offensive plays: 24 yards on a short pass to Ingram and two 3rd & 1 first downs on short runs. Cards 7 - Saints 3.

    TB on the KO. Palmer clicked on a pass to John Brown for +14 and a 5 yard completion to Fitz; but the drive stalled at the Cards 38. Butler shanked the (30 yd) punt. Saints ball on their own 32. They reached their 42 as the quarter ended.

1st Quarter Score: Cards 7 - Saints 3..

2nd Quarter
  • Two plays later Morstead punted from his own 48. Fair caught by Nelson at his own 12. After moving the Cards to ther own 34 - on a 3rd & 2 - Palmer hit Fells (who had Saint defenders bouncing off him) for a 48-yard pickup. An interference call (the best of 3 NO penalties on a pass play) put the ball on the NO one-yard line where Ellingtonsqueezed into the end zone for a TD.Cards 14 - Saints 3.

    TB on the KO. Brees engineered an 80-yard TD drive that consumed 12 plays and 5:49 worth of clock. He shredded the Cardinal defense mixing screens, flares and inside runs. Play sequence: Ingram run: +9; Ingram run +4; short pass to Robinson: +22; short pass to Watson: +7; Inc., Inc., Punt nullified by illegal substitution pena;ty. Brees to Robinson: +7; Run: +4; Run: +4; Brees to Ingram: +4; Brees to Johnson: +2; Brees to Coleman: +12 ;and a TD.- Cards 14 - Saints 10.

  • 5:14 till halftime. D Johnson returned the KO to the Cardinal 36. Cards went 3 & out. Butler's punt was dair caught at the NO 11. 3:38 left. NO picked up a 1st down but got no farther than their own 20 and punte3d. Nelson returned it to the Card 37 with 1:07 till the half. They managed to reach the NO 39 with 0:14 left. Palmer decided to scramble and picked up 12 yards but time ran out as he left the field limping. (There was some TV booth criticism of both Palmer's wisdom in scrambling as well as his clock management. (i.e. he could have chucked the ball out of bounds and had one more shot at the end zone on 4th down - and eliminated the risk of injury).

First Half Score: Cards 14 - Saints 10..

3rd Quarter
  • NO received. On the first play from scrimmage, Brees hit Snead for 63-yards to the Az 12, but the Saints failed to convert and had to settle for a 23-yard FG. Cardinal margin is now razor-thin. Cards 14 - Saints 13..

    TB on the KO. Cards went 3 & out (sound of teeth nibbling on fingernails). Punt was returned to the NO 30. After NO picked up a 1st down, a holding call stalled the drive, the Cardinal defense stiffened and Morstead punted from his own 43. Punt went out of bounds at the Card 30. Six plays later, Ellington gained 10-yards on an inside run only to fumble it away (Breaux on the recovery). But the Cardinal defense reached into its deep bag of grits and with Saints' ball on the Card 45, Rashad Johnson picked off a pass intended for Colston. Cards ball on their own 40. a 29-yard completion to Fitz and a couple of Ellington runs up the middle set up a 43-yard Catanzaro FG. Cards 17 - Saints 13.

    TB on the KO. Quarter ended one play later; NO ball - 2nd & 9 at their own 21..

Third Quarter Score: Cards 17 - Saints 13.

4th Quarter
  • A 30-yard pass to Cooks movwed the ball into Cardinal territory. A 14-yard completion to Colston moved NO to the Cardinal 27. BUt the Cardinal defense held firm and NO had to settled for a 45-yard FG to again make it a one-point game.Cards 17 - Saints 16.

  • TB on the KO. After Ellington gained 16-yqrds off right tackle, he injured his knee on the very next play (It looked as if he was running straight ahead and about to explode north south into the hole when the knee gave way. There was no contact; he didn't seem to twist it. Prelim diagnosis: PCL. Pronosis: up in air). Cards managed to move to the NO 17 - mostly on 2uns of +12 and +15 yardsw by Chris JohnsonOn the 5th play of the drive, Palmer hit Fells for +17-yards and a TD. Cards 24 - Saints 16.

    TB on the KO. Saints came right back and - soon after Ingram turned a short pass from Brees into a 59-yard gain - the Cardinal defense sucked it up again and, at their own 15, forced NO to kick another FG. Cards 24 - Saints 19.

    6:45 left. TB on the KO. THe first 6 plays of the Cardinal possession either featured Fitz or Chris Johnson. Fitz Caught two passes (for +9 amd +22). Johnson carried four times for a total of 11 yards. But the drive stalled at the NO 38 and Butler nailed his second box-em-in punt at the NO 3. 2:12 left. Card defense hung tough and held NO to three & out. Nelson returned the punt to the Cardinal 43. On the second play of the Cardinal possession, Palmer faked to Brown on a sweep-left and then hit David Johnson who was crossing left to right just underneath the line of scrimmage. Johnson then turned it upfield along the right sideline and beat everyone to the end zone for a 55-yard TD gallop to ice the game. Cards 31 - Saints 19.

    1:33 to go. TB on the KO. After a 19-yard completion to Coleman, NO punted 4 plays later and, with 0:22 left to play, the Cards ran out the clock.

Final Score: Cards 31 - Saints 19

Game Stats.

  • Palmer was 19 for 32 (307 yards, 3 TD and no picks). (Brees went 30 for 48 (355 yards, a TD and one picks).

    Cards fumbled once (Ellington).

  • Ellington carried 12 times for 69 yards. C Johnson gained 37 yards on 10 carries.
  • Fitz led the receivers with 9 catches for 87 yards. Fells and John Brown each had 4 catches - Fells for 82 yards and Brown for 46. .

  • Cardinal Run/Pass Ratio: . (Runs: 25 /Pass: 32). Saints Run/Pass Ratio: 20/48)

  • Mathieu led the team with 8 unassisted tackles. Bucannon, Powers and Minter each had 7 unassisted and assisted tackles.

  • Okafor had the Cards's 2 sacks. Card pass blockers held Saint pass rushers to zero sacks.

    Cards were 5 for 10 (50%) in Third Down Efficiency. Broncs were 7 for 18 (38%).

    Cards were 3 for 3 (100%) in Red Zone efficiency. Saints were 1 for 4 (25%)

    Cards held the Saints to one TD. Card offense racked up 4.

    Penalties: Cards were penalized 5 times (compared to NO's 7)

    Time of Possession: Cards 6:36 - Oakland 33:24

  • Card run defense gave up an average of 2.7 yards per rushing play (Card rushers averaged 4.8)

Bright Spots

  • Palmer (especially on his opening drive) looked like the Palmer of old, finding the open man, yet threading most of his passes through tight windows.

  • Cards ran for 120 net yards.

  • Card defense held Saints to 54 net yards.

    Fitz and Carson have always been on the same page, but it's also really nice to see the chemistry between Palmer and John Brown (They seem to be reading each other's mind).

  • No sacks given up/Watford held his own/We're one game closer to having Massie and Iupati back.

  • 2 sacks by Okafor

  • The emergence of Darren Fells at TE. Big soft hands; (& would-be tacklers seemed to bounce off him).

    JJ looked poised returing punts.

    Peterson looked solid. Cookheld to 49-yards on 4 completions.

    The Badger looks like he's all the way back.

    Butler nailed 2 deep punts (to more than compensate for his 30-yard wounded duck earlier in the game).

    The defense really squeezed things down at crunch time (onlly one TD/forcing NO to kick 4 FG's).

The Dark Side

  • Brees screened and flared us to death all day long.

    Too many tacklers threw themselves at the ballcarrier instead of wrapping up.

  • What was it: 4 substitution penalties?

  • Memo to Carson Palmer: "You're not Michael Vick (& none of us want you to be."

  • That first Butler shanked punt.

  • Ellington was carted off with what was thought to be an injured PC. UPDATE - MRI suggested a mild sprain; prognosis: He'll be out 1 to 3 weeks.

Last Word:
Only downer was the injury to Ellington, but reports are the injury wasn't as bad as it seems. At the very least, BA and the Caradinal staff should treat Andre as a valuable but somewhat delicate asset to be spotted and use him sparingly (i.e. he' isn't durable enough to be our "bell cow"). What the game all boiled down to was that the Cardinals (& their warts) outscored NO (who had more warts than we did). To paraphrase BA - most of our ugly stuff is correctable. One thing becomes clear, though: Most NFL games involve close decisions, and unless we fix the few things that are broke, it;s going to cost us at least a few of those nail-biters.

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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012