New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals — Gus Kattengell’s Preview
[The following preview is courtesy of our Saints reporter Gus Kattengell. He has covered the team for years and is a sports talk show host in New Orleans. Occasionally he gets a prediction right.]
Just who are the 2015 New Orleans Saints?
Your guess is as good as mine and yes I’m paid to cover and analyze the team. That’s the point. I honestly believe the coaching staff led by head coach Sean Payton, doesn’t really know what they have.
Sure there is an idea, that coming from the spring-cleaning that took place following a 7-9 campaign from a season ago. There is a 40% roster turnover from a season ago with 21 new players. Add the injuries that have hit the team since the start of training camp and it just adds to the unknown factor.
Quarterback Drew Brees remains the constant of course and now healthy, he admitted that last year he dealt with something more besides an oblique injury suffered during training camp, what it was we don’t know as he won’t say but Brees has looked crisp during the offseason and training camp. The four lone series he played in during the preseason showed that he is ready as he led the first string offense to a pair of touchdowns and a pair of field goals.
In the backfield, Mark Ingram is happy with a new four-year deal and is eager to show his worth. The addition of RB CJ Spiller will add to this offense, just trust me the wheel route will be big with him, that is when he comes back from an injury that has sidelined him recently. Spiller likely will be back as early as next week.
There are only four wide receivers to start the season but another one likely will be added following this week due to financial wrangling to better suit the team and it’ll likely be a veteran. Marques Colston is the only known commodity at wide out. Second year player Brandin Cooks is very good and is now this team’s most dynamic weapon but an injury last season limited to just 10 games.
Ben Watson and Josh Hill man the tight end spot and Waston has looked ten years younger and poised to have a nice season. Up front the addition of Max Unger, brought over via the Jimmy Graham trade to Seattle, should help solidify the middle. Terron Armstead will emerge this season as a top left tackle and Zach Strief will be solid if healthy. The question marks are at guard as Jahri Evans is an aging Pro Bowler that has dealt with injuries the last several seasons and Tim Lelito is entering his first year as a starter at left guard. I’d expect some growing pains.
The defense is the issue. We all know that. A lack of a pass rush and solid secondary helped the Saints become a defense that finished ranked second to last in 2014. Six of the nine draft picks this season were on the defensive side and two rookies will likely start on Sunday. Middle linebacker Stephone Anthony is good and will eventually call the plays but David Hawthorne could be the one calling the defensive play calls to start the season but trust me Anthony is a stud and given time he will be the captain of the defense in the seasons to come. Hau’oli Kikaha is the other rookie that will try and add to the pass rush. He has speed and is a tireless worker. I’m really interested to see how good he can be once his number of snaps goes up.
The secondary. Ah the secondary. Well we thought free agent pick up Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis would pair up to form a formidable duo at cornerback and local Delvin Breaux would be a strength at the nickel position. Well Lewis is hurt thanks to hip surgery out 4-6 weeks, so Breaux moves to Lewis’ spot and rookie Damian Swann is the nickel. Safety Kenny Vaccaro I belive will be more like the player we saw his rookie campaign and Rafael Bush will be solid while playing for the injured Jairus Bryd who we MAY see at some point this season. Payton this week said it’ll be before the next six weeks, hence why they didn’t place him on the physically unable to perform list.
Arizona is coming off an 11-5 season that ended that in with a 27-16 Wild Card game loss to Carolina. Quarterback Carson Palmer was the difference as the Cards opened up the season with a 9-1 record but lost four of their final six after Palmer suffered a season ending knee injury. Arizona has a solid defense with former LSU Tigers Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. Reports leading into this game are that the offensive line is struggling however. Can the Saints defense take advantage of that?
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE
The obvious answer is Drew Brees. That is a given. RB Mark Ingram is my key here. The Saints almost always win when they rush for over 100 yards. Ingram has insisted all off season he wants to be more than just a rushing tailback and the team has shown the willingness to pass him the ball out of the backfield. Ingram can really help the cause if he can be effective out of the backfield as a rusher and a pass catcher.
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE
Defensive end Cam Jordan has to show up. The Saints pass rush was non-existent last season and in preseason. Voted a captain this week by the team and fresh off of a big new contract worth $60 million, Jordan HAS to be the leader on the defensive line and be a factor. The Cards offensive line has struggled this preseason and this is the first full game for Palmer off of a knee injury. Any kind of pressure could affect him.
Running back / returner Marcus Murphy was selected in the seventh round this past NFL Draft. He has done nothing but shine in the offseason and has given hope that finally the Saints may have found a legitimate return guy. If things hold to form as in the Saints offense can score and the defense is average at best, a key return or change of field possession by Murphy could determine the game.
HOW I SEE IT
The Saints have so many questions it’s tough to predict what we will see. I do think the Saints have talent. It’s more about how quickly can a team taking the field Sunday mesh when some of the players were originally pegged to be backups or situational players and now asked to start. I think the Saints will be able to run the ball and the defense won’t look great but may make one stop, maybe two. That could be enough. Rookie kicker Zach Hocker you just know will matter. 30-27 Saints as Hocker is the difference.