When the Arizona Cardinals come visit the New Orleans Saints (kickoff is Saturday at 3:30pm Central, 4:30 Eastern on FOX) at the Superdome, points should come in bunches. If the Packers @ Cardinals matchup last week was any indication of what two very capable offenses with struggling defense can do to each other, I'm thinking we'll see more of the same in a dome with impeccable conditions.
Here's a few factors to consider when you get into shootout games like these:
-- Turnovers and sacks come at a premium. They do in all games, but a one turnover difference can swing the game when both offenses are gaining yards in bunches. Any big defensive "play" can prove to be a game changer.
-- 3rd down plays are crucial. When teams are moving the ball seemingly at will, you have to take advantage of your opportunities to get off the field as a defense because they won't come that often. If you're facing a 3rd and 4 or more, that is your chance to get a stop and you're in desperate need to make that play.
-- Penalties are a major factor. When offenses are operating at a very high efficiency rate, the easiest way to stop them is when they need 15-20 yards to get a first down, instead of 10. Conversely, helping them out by handing them 15 yards on a personal foul when they're already moving the ball on you is a back breaker.
-- Stopping opposing offenses to field goal attempts is basically a win. If the field goal is missed, even better.
Those are my four items to watch, and while you can say those factors apply to any football game, I'd venture to say they are more pronounced in a shootout. So how do the Saints and the Cardinals stack up in these categories?
Turnovers and sacks:
Turnover Differential: Saints 3rd in NFL (+11), Cardinals 24th in NFL (-7)
Sacks Made: Cardinals 6th most in NFL (43), Saints 13th most in NFL (35)
Sacks Allowed: Saints 4th least in NFL (20), Cardinals 6th least in NFL (26)
3rd Down Conversions:
When on Offense: Saints 6th in NFL (45% conversion), Cardinals 21st in NFL (36%)
When on Defense: Saints 19th in the NFL (38% conversion), Cardinals 27th in NFL (35%)
On Offense: Saints 13th least penalized (89), Cardinals 26th least penalized (108)
On Defense: Saints 7th least penalized (86), Cardinals 23rd least penalized (104)
Field Goal %:
Cardinals 1st in NFL (95%), Saints 24th in NFL (79%)
So all in all, if this game turns out to be an offensive fanfare/shootout like I expect it to, the Saints match up favorably in all of the categories I listed as crucial except for field goal percentage. The sack category is basically a push, because while the Saints recorded 8 less sacks this season, they also gave up 6 less than the Cardinals. The major differences you can see in what happened to both teams over the course of the season are that the Saints offense and defense both converted 3rd down opportunities at a much better rate than the Cardinals. The Saints also have a much better turnover ratio for the season, and the Saints get an infinitely smaller number of penalties per game. This all adds up to what I consider a big advantage for the Saints, should this game get into a shootout. Big plays, to an extent, involve bigger risks. When both teams are taking big risks, the one with more penalties, turnovers, and lower 3rd down % conversion rate tend to lose. On paper, the Saints have to be a pretty big favorite, especially considering the fact that this game is at home. But we've all seen what Kurt Warner has done the last two years in the playoffs, and there is a reason the game is being played. The Achilles heel for the Saints, I think, would be a crucial late Garrett Hartley field goal should the Saints come to need it. Season stats are out the window when the opening kickoff is hit, but ultimately, the team that does better in these areas I've outlined will win. History says the Saints are better in those areas than the Cardinals. We shall see if history can repeat itself at 3:30pm Central on Saturday.
Seeing the statistics I put together above, do you feel better, worse or indifferent about the Saints-Cards matchup?