Setting the Stage
Despite being without the services of Drew Brees (thumb) for most of the season, the Saints have rolled to a 6 - 1 record off victories over the Texans, Sattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Da' Bears. and they did it with backup QB Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. (Hallmark of the team is their ability to overcome injuries to key players. Only NO loss was to the Rams in Week 2).
After a somewhat shaky early season, the newly constructed Cards have won 3 in a row, but, inside the world of professional football, the Saints are now considered one of the elites of the NFL.
Saints Crush Bears
Bridgewater threw for 281 yards and 2 TDs as the Saints took apart the Bears 36 to 25 in Chicago. Michael Thomas had 9 catches for 131 yards. Latavias Murray (aka "the other Murray"), subbing for the injured Alvin Kamara (knee, ankle) ran for 119 yds and 2 TDs...Saints caught Chicago on a "bad hair day" (Bears were without a healthy Mitchell Trubisky (back from a gamy shoulder).
Leading at 12-10 halftime, the Saints drove 75 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter. An uncovered Ted Ginn Jr. coralled a 45-yard pass and, on the next play, Latavius Murray ran it in from the 3.
New Orleans then squandered a big opportunity after Chicago's David Montgomery lost a fumble. NO took over at the Bears 29, but couldn't move the ball, and Wil Lutz come up short from 52 -- his second miss of the day.
But then, Taysom Hill caught a 4-yard TD pass with less than three minutes left in the third to make it 26-10, and the Saints stayed in the driver's seat the rest of the way.
NO Safety - NO 2 - Chi 0
NO TD - J Hill pass from Bridgewater - NO 9 - Chi 0
Chi TD - Patterson - 102 yd KO ret - NO 9 - Chi 7
FIRST QUARTER SCORE: NO 9 - Chi 7
Chi FG - Piniero 46 yds - Chi 10 - NO
NO FG - Lutz - 39 yds - NO 12 - Chi 10
2ND QUARTER SCORE: NO 12 - Chi 10
NO TD - Murray - 3 yd run - NO 19 - Chi 10
NO TD - T Hill 4 yd pass from Bridgewater - NO 26 - Chi 10
3RD QUARTER SCORE: NO 26 - Chi 10
NO TD - Lutz - 30 yds. NO 33 -Chi 10
NO TD - Murray - 4 yd run - NO 36 - Chi 10
CHI TD - Robinson - 7 yd pass from Trubiski (2 pt) - NO 36 - Chi 18
CHI TD - Wims - 6 yd pass from Trubiski - NO 36 - Chi 25
FINAL SCORE: NO 36 - Chi 25
Saints in a Nutshell
Well-coached team with a deep, well-selected and developed roster. It's unclear who will be at QB vs. Arizona, but the CW is "pick your poison" - either Brees or Bridgewater are capable of inflicting deep damage.
QB ...09 Brees...05 Bridgewater...07 T Hill
RB....41 Kamara...28 Murray...27 Washington...35 Zenner
WR...13 M Thomas....11 D Harris...84 L Humphrey
WR ..19 T Ginn Jr...10 T Smith...80 Carr
TE..87 Cook...89 J Hil...85 Arnold
LT...72 Armstead....73 Greenidge
LG...71 Hernandez...65 Gates
OC...78x McCoy...62 Easton...64 Clapp
RG..67 Warford...60 Omameh
RT...71 Ramczyk...75 Peat
Defensive Interior Line
LDE - 97 Z Allen...90 Bullard...91 Dogbe
NT - 98 Peters, 92 Kerr
RDE - 95 Gunter, 93 McDonald
SAM - 55 C Jones, 50 Reed
ILB - 43 Reddick, 59 Walker
MLB - 58 Hicks, 42 Gardeck...47 Z Turner
WILL - 56 Suggs, 54 Marsh Sr
RCB - 33 Murphy.....27 K Peterson
LCB - ...21 P Peterson...20 Brock......T Williams
SS - 35 D Thompson...38 Banjo
FS - 32 Baker...38 J Thompson... 28 C Washington... 40 Tillman*
Saints Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
NO Passers are 169 of 245 - 1715 yds, 11 TDs and 4 Ints. Their opponents went 156 of 251, 10 TDs and 3 picks. Saints rank #13 in passing yards. Bridgewater (6 games) was sacked 11 times. (Brees (2 games) was sacked only once). Each NO QB was intercepted twice. Bridgewater has a Completion avg of 72.9% and a QBR of 45.3 (Brees had a completion percentage of 67.7% and a QBR of 74.9).
Michael Thomas is the most targeted NO receiver, grabbing 62 of 78 balls throw to him. Kamara (a RB) is second most active receiver catching 33 of 39 balls thrown to him. Next up is (Cardinal killer) Ted Ginn Jr with 30 targets and TE Jarrod Cook next up with 27.
In terms of TD's per receiver, Saint QBs spread the ball around pretty liberally - top # of TDs just 3 (by Thomas) followed by 8 pass catchers with 2 TD's or less.
Cards are getting used to "life with Patrick Peterson." his presence adds a playmaking dimension, narrows the playing field and takes some of the pressure off the other DB's. Gives Vance Jones a little bit more flexiblity in his defensive scheming too.
Key Matchups - Perterson vs. Thomas. Cook vs. Murphy. Ginn vs, Brock. Saint RB vs. B Baker
Matchup: Saints Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Kamara lugged the leather 86 times for373 yds (4.3 avg). L Murray gained 257 yds on 59 carries for a 4.4 yd average. QB's T Bridgewater and T Hill combined for 120 yds on 32 attempts.
Key Matchups - Kamara or Murray vs. Hicks. Saint OL vs Card DL.
So far, young Murray's trajectory has been upward each week and amazingly consistent for a rookie. Hidden beneath all his "wow" plays has been a remarkable lack of fumbles, interceptions and other miscues. Cards like to use multi-receiver sets and Murray is unaffraid to spread the ball around among the likes of Fitz, Kirk, Cooper, Byrd or KS Johnson.
Kingsbury appears to have developed a multi-faceted offense that enables the Cardinal offense to attack their opponents with a variety of looks and schemes depending on matchups and defensive strategies. It's hard to predict what the Cardinals will throw at the Saint defense come Sunday.
Cameron Jordan leads the Saints in sacks with 7. Two other NO defenders (Davenport and Hendrickson) have 3 sacks apiece.
01 Murray, 07 Hundley
31 D Johnson, 29 Edmonds, 37 Foster
WR - 11 Fitzgerald...89 Isabella,
WR - 13 Kirk....19 KS Johnson..
..14 Byrd...16 Sherfield...12 Cooper
TE - 85 Clay, 87 M Williams....81 Daniels
LT- ...74 Humphries...66 Miles,
LG - 67 Pugh
OC- 53 Shipley, 52 Cole
RG- 64 Sweezy, 65 Gailliard.
RT - 71 J Murray..
RDE..92 Davenport...91 Hendrickson...96 Granderson
NT....90 M Brown...99 Tuttle
DT....98 Rankins...93 Onyemata...97 M Edwards
WiLL...56 D Davis...52 Robertson
MLB...54 Alonso...50 RR Armstrong
LCB....25 Apple...xx PJ Williams...20 Crawley
SS......24 Bell...22 Gardner-Johnson...48 Gray
FS......43 M Williams ...33 Hampton...
RCB...23 Lattimore...21 P Robinson....34 Hardee
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Saints Pass Defense
Leading Saint pass rusher is Cameron Jordan with 7 sacks. Davenport and Hendrickson follow with 3 sacks apiece. Jordan and Davenport lead the team in QB Hits with 12 each. Marcus Williams leads the team in intercdeptions with 2. Bell leads the team in forced fumbles with 2.
Cards like to mix it up; drawing from a variety of weapons in their arsenal, depending on how the defense wants to play it
K Murray vs. Saint front seven...Fitz vs. Apple...Kirk vs. Lattimore....Edmonds vs. Alonso.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. SaintsRun Defense
Bell and Davis lead the Saints in tackles with 46 and 45 tackles respectively.
Chase Edmonds had an outstanding outing vs, Giants last week (Which probably means that Kingsbury will rely on Murray's ability to run the ball). When David Johnson is healthy, he's a legitimate threat, but Cards have been relatively coy about hia readiness to play week to week.
D Johnson or C Edmonds vs. Alonso. NO front seven vs. Cardinal OL.
Ginn has always been a constant home run threat (He seems to pop up on opposing rosters more frequently than he should. Yet it's D Harris who's had the lion's share of return touches. Lutz has an 83.3% average on FGs and 03.8% on XPs.
Gonzalez seems to have settled in on FG's with some degree of comfort but will have to contend with a very noisy crowd in NO. Lee is a Pro Bowl punter.
K ..03 Lutz
P ..... 06 Morstead
H 06 Morstead
LS 49 Wood
KR .11 D Harris
PR 11 D Harris
Cardinals Special Teams
P - ...02 Lee
K- ....05 Gonzalez
H - ...02 Lee
LS - 46 Brewer
KR -12 Cooper... 89 Isabella...
PR - 13 Kirk...14 Byrd....12 Cooper
Matchup Saints Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Ginn and Harris are scary in the return game. We view Lutz and Gonzalez as fairly even. Lee has the edge as a punter.
Saints have scarier returners. Lee is the better punter. Lutz and Gonzalez are fairly even. Card special teams units have played better and better each week.
Coaching / Intangibles
HC Sean Payton...OC Pete Carmichael. DC Dennis Allen...ST: Darren Rizzi (Note - Do the Saints seem deeper than average in specialized and assistant coaches on their staff)?.
How to Beat Saints
Don't let them grab and sustain a lead. Win at least half our 3rd down battles. Cut down on the dumb penalties. Reliable tackling. No coverage breakdowns.
In other words, "Don't beat ourselves."