The New Orleans Saints are back home this Sunday to face the 3-3-1 Arizona Cardinals. The 6-1 Saints have won five straight, including the last two on the road. They've been on this streak not only without injured quarterback Drew Brees, but defeated the Chicago Bears without injured starters Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, and Tre'Quan Smith as well. Despite being shorthanded, New Orleans scored a season-high 36 points in the win over Chicago. They now take on an Arizona defense that has allowed 27.4 points per game and ranks near the bottom of the league in most categories. Many of the injured Saints stars may be a game time decision though, while the Cardinals welcome back one of the NFL's best defensive backs. Here is how the two units match up against each other.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. CARDINALS PASS DEFENSE
Teddy Bridgewater has averaged 241 yards per game passing in his five starts, throwing 9 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. Bridgewater has completed nearly 68% of his throws, and has made good decisions with the football. His accuracy and decisiveness have improved in the second halves of games, which has led to some big drives and key conversions. Bridgewater benefits from having the most productive receiver in football. Michael Thomas has caught 3 touchdown passes, and his 62 receptions for 763 yards both lead the league. Despite missing last week's game, running back Alvin Kamara is still the team's second leading receiver with 33 catches for 276 yards and a score. Cook, who has 15 receptions for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns, was beginning to hit his stride within the offense before missing last week. Wideout Tre'quan Smith (5-75, 1) got off to a solid start to the year, before missing four of the last five games. All three players are dealing with ankle injuries, and are currently listed as questionable for this week. Without them, Bridgewater did a solid job of getting other players involved. Veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is still the Saints best deep threat, and has 18 receptions for 254 yards. Blocking tight end Josh Hill caught 3 key passes against the Bears for 43 yards and a score, and running back Latavius Murray has proven extremely effective on screen passes. A major reason that Bridgewater has been so efficient no matter who his receivers are is because of the performance of the Saints offensive line, who have made opposing pass rushers disappear into a black hole. Saints quarterbacks have been sacked just 12 times this season, and opponents have often not even been able to hurry a New Orleans thrower. While the interior line has usually done a fine job in protection, the Saints offensive tackles are both playing at an elite level. Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead have handled some of the NFL's best pass rushers this season, often one on one, and in large part have made them all non-factors.
The Arizona defense has had a leaky pass defense for most of the season, although they had their best outing in last week's win over the New York Giants. Much of that can be attributed to the return to the lineup of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson's return figures to drastically improve a pass defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 70% of their throws for an average of 263 yards while intercepting a league low 1 pass. The other Arizona defensive backs have been prone to big plays down the field, and have caused no turnovers. Cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Tramaine Brock have not been able to stay with opposing wideouts, while safeties Budda Baker and Deionte Thompson have been exploited in the open field. The Cardinals do have a pair of disruptive edge rushers with Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs, who have combined for 13.5 of the team's 22 sacks. Jones, who has 8.5 sacks, is one of the league's best pass rushers and has double digit sack totals in five of his last six seasons. The Cardinals try to limit snaps for the 37-yr. old Suggs, but get very little pressure from anyone else consistently. That forces Arizona to blitz more often than they'd perhaps like, leaving their struggling secondary even more vulnerable. The Cardinals linebackers, though athletic, have also had issues in coverage responsibilities, often leaving the middle of the field open for opponents.
Matchup to Watch: Michael Thomas vs. Patrick Peterson
A marquee battle between two of the NFL's best at their respective positions. Peterson has struggled at times in his career against physical wideouts, and Thomas is combative on every play. Thomas has been successful against some of the league's best defensive backs, and now gets his shot at what many consider the best one in Peterson.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. CARDINALS RUN DEFENSE
New Orleans has averaged 111 yards per game on the ground, and rushed for a season best 151 yards against the Bears last Sunday Alvin Kamara remains the Saints leading rusher with 86 carries for 373 yards and a touchdown, but Latavius Murray was excellent in replacing him as the primary back against a formidable Chicago run defense. Murray ran for 119 yards and two scores against the Bears, and has proven he can provide a lethal 1-2 punch once Kamara is healthy. Even if the Saints versatile weapon does sit this game out, Murray is more than capable of shouldering the load. Whomever is rushing the ball for New Orleans has the luxury of a powerful and athletic offensive line paving the way in front of them. The Saints have worn down defenses in the second half in particular, blowing opposing lines off the ball and opening cutback lanes for their backs. Guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat have established the line of scrimmage early on in games, but rookie center Erik McCoy may be the most impressive of the interior linemen. McCoy, a second round pick, is playing like a seasoned Pro Bowler, and has been just as effective as a pass blocker as he has in the run game.
The Cardinals have surrendered 129 yards per game and 4.7/carry this season, ranking 25th in the NFL. Linebacker Jordan Hicks leads the team with 70 tackles, and 2017 1st round pick Hasson Reddick appears to have found his niche in their defensive scheme. Arizona has had trouble setting the edge though, allowing opposing backs to get to the corner and second level of their defense quickly. Four different rushers have picked up at least 88 yards against them, and their interior line often gets pushed around at the point of attack.
There has been some speculation that Drew Brees may suit up and play this Sunday. Although his rehab has reportedly went well, it seems more likely that the team will sit him out and target the November 10 Atlanta game after their bye for his return. They may also do the same with Kamara, who is dealing with both a high ankle sprain and knee injury, as well as Cook and Smith.
The shorthanded New Orleans offense exceeded expectations against a highly regarded Bears defense on the road last week. Expect them to again control the tempo of the game with their offensive line, while remaining patient with the running attack to maintain balance. Murray's ability as a runner will better set up play action, which the Saints used well against Chicago last week. Ramczyk and Armstead must continue to excel, this time facing off against Jones and Suggs, to allow Bridgewater to spread the ball around. Thomas vs. Peterson is a juicy one on one battle, but keep an eye on Ted Ginn Jr. against an Arizona secondary that has given up alot of big plays.
Where is the most important match up for the New Orleans offense against Arizona's defense?
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Michael Thomas vs. Patrick Peterson
Ryan Ramczyk/Terron Armstead vs. Chandler Jones/Terrell Suggs
The other Saints WR's/TE's vs. Cardinals secondary
Saints interior offensive line vs. Cardinals DT's