By: Christopher Haddad
After winning 3 games in a row, 2 of them on the road in an unfavorable time slot, the Arizona Cardinals travelled to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face their toughest test yet, against the 6-1 New Orleans Saints. Expectations ran high for this game, after seeing what the offense can produce over time, as well as how effective the defense can be with the addition of their Pro Bowl Corner, Patrick Peterson. Expectations fell short. The Cardinals lost the game, 31-9, a game where they failed to score a touchdown for the first time all year. The red zone woes returned (0-2), as well as inefficiencies on 3rd down (2-12). The line struggled to contain defensive end Cam Jordan on key plays throughout the game, and the running game was miserable. Here are some key takeaways from the game, or more succinctly stated, 4 reasons for the loss..
Kyler Murray versus Drew Brees. Brees was not playing psychological mind games when he said he planned to return for this game. Not only did he return, but he played as though he never missed a snap, throwing for 34 completions on 43 attempts for a total of 373 yards. Brees showed what experience can do for a quarterback in this league, avoiding a single sack, after the Cardinals racked up 8 of them last week against the New York Giants. Brees has an incredible pocket awareness, and demonstrated today that he is still the man in New Orleans. Kyler Murray, on the other hand, went 19-34 for 197 yards. Not a horrible outing for the rookie, but nowhere close to what fans have come to expect. Murray showed he is still a rookie, struggling in the 4th quarter after momentum had changed. He also showed that he will eventually be more than capable of playing on the big stage against the elite teams, just not quite yet.
The receiving core of the Saints outplayed that of the Cardinals. Michael Thomas played like the number one receiver in the league yet again, showing why, well, he’s the number one receiver in the league this year. He “only” made 11 catches for 112 yards and 1 touchdown on the day. It doesn’t matter who is throwing the ball to this man, he continues to play smart football, with sure hands and an instinct for how to gain the most yardage after the catch. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals’ receiving core did little in this game, outside of Christian Kirk, who returned from injury to post 8 catches for 79 yards. Larry Fitzgerald, while extending his consecutive games streak with at least one catch (227), was pedestrian, with only 2 catches for 8 yards.
The running game was even more one sided, with the Saints rushing for 137 yards, and the Cardinals merely gaining 40 yards rushing on the day. Chase Edmunds averaged just over a yard per carry (7 attempted for 8 yards), after the monster game he posted last week. What’s more, he ended up leaving the game with a hamstring injury and did not return, with his status being listed as day-to-day, and his availability for Thursday night’s game against the Forty Niners as highly questionable. For the Saints, Latavius Murray followed up his incredible play last week with another fantastic week, gaining 102 yards on 21 attempts, for a 4.9 yard average. David Johnson’s worth to this team cannot be stated enough, despite the play of Edmunds last week. He keeps defenses honest, and allows the passing game to open up.
Finally, coaching played a big part in this game. Sean Payton is a veteran coach, who calls a smart game plan that plays to the strengths of his team. He is one of the best at making in-game adjustments, as evidenced by the fact that the Saints have scored on their first position of the second half in all but one of their games this season. He knows what he is doing, and his coordinators were able to take what was working for the Cards last week, and shut it down this week. He and Brees fed their hot hands throughout the game, and it showed in their time of possession (approximately 38 minutes for the Saints to 22 minutes for the Cardinals).
Arizona’s defense was on the field entirely too long, and it showed in the 4th quarter. That, as well as the most controversial call in the game, Cards Coach Kliff Kingsbury choosing to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Cardinals’ own 30 yard line in the 3rd quarter. At that time, the Saints only had a 4 point lead, 10-6. The Cardinals failed to convert, and could muster very little after that play, throughout the rest of the game, as the momentum was too strong for the Saints by then.
The Cardinals played tough for 3 quarters, keeping the game close, despite an inability to sniff the end zone. Finally, in the 4th quarter, all of these reasons converged to put the game away for good. Now it’s home to rest up for a few hours before getting ready for the Niners, an undefeated team, on 4 days of rest. A short memory will be vital for this team this week.