ReFo: Cardinals @ Saints, Week 3
Three games, three wins.
You couldn’t have scripted it better for a New Orleans Saints side looking to put the pain of 2012 well and truly behind it. They kept the ball rolling with a hard fought (despite what the scoreline might say) victory over a resolute, if somewhat limited, Arizona Cardinals team.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians will rue some poor execution on offense and some terrible tackling on defense that, after a strong opening drive, ensured the Saints always had a degree of control over a game they never looked like letting slip.
Let’s take a look at some of the key performances.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
At times he’s the kind of defensive linemen that gets pushed about in the run game and is invisible rushing the passer. Then, when you give him a rookie making his first start, he looks every bit the star that his fans want to see. Of course I’m referring to Darnell Dockett (+8.5) who feasted on rookie Tim Lelito, making the right guard pay for his hesitancy and showing that he’s still got some spring in his step.
Though he graded positively against the run, it was his work rushing the passer that will have him considered for team of the week honors, finishing with three sacks, a hit and three hurries on 39 pass rushes. Considering he went into this game with just a solitary hurry in two games, that’s quite the turnaround.
After a strong opener against the Rams, Carson Palmer (-0.7) has started to resemble the player we expected him to be these past two games. His problems against the Saints tend to magnify the problems of the protection around him. He struggled when pressured, completing just one of nine attempts here and throwing a pick to leave him an imperfect 0.0 QB rating.
When a quarterback struggles against pressure it makes those instances stand out far more, and as a result can leave you exiting a game thinking there was a ton more pressure than there actually was. Take this game for example, on 39 drop-backs he was pressured on a third of them. Not great from the protection unit by any stretch, but not as bad as it seems, especially with one of the sacks being the result of Palmer getting spooked and climbing the pocket in such a way that his linemen would lose their leverage (Q3, 8:27).
The team has a guy who will challenge defenses (14 passes over 10 yards in the air), now they just need for him to be more accurate (just five completions on those).
Bringing the Ballcarrier Down
Is it me, or would teams be a little bit better working on the fundamentals of tackling? Well, certain teams at least. Arizona, who missed 14 tackles in this game, might be one of them as they allowed the Saints more yardage than they should have had with some sloppy efforts.
In a game like this, where the Saints game plan was clearly not to run the ball, that didn’t hurt them as much as it could have. But players like Jasper Brinkley (two tackles, two missed tackles and a -3.1 grade) need to do a better job finishing plays. He was one of four players to miss multiple tackles, and that just isn’t good enough.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
While much of the talk coming out of this game was Cameron Jordan, after he added two sacks to his impressive season, it was Junior Galette (+3.8 pass rushing) who caught the eye among the Saints pass rushers. He walked away with “only” a sack, a hit, and three hurries on his 33 pass rushes, but sometimes it’s about quality and not quantity and his impact plays were certainly quality.
All of his pressure came against Levi Brown, who he made look even slower of foot than usual. His sack with 5:24 to go in Q1 was an example of him having too much speed for the former first-rounder, while the spin move he humbled him with was a thing of beauty (Q2, 11:43). You’d like to see more from him, but at the moment the high points are so impressive you can’t not be excited by his potential in this defense.
A Mixed Day for Brees
On the surface of things it would seem Drew Brees (+2.9) had a very good day. And for the most part he did, punishing the Cardinals’ coverage unit with eight completions over 10 yards in the air and a very healthy 98.3 QB rating.
However, while there were some excellent throws, there were also some throws that we saw too much of last year. Against Arizona he got away with them, but against better teams will he be so lucky? For as efficient as he is, and as high as his completion percentage is, there are times (more than you’d like to see) where Brees flings a ball in hope more than expectation, going after a well-covered receiver. He paid for this with a pick by Tyrann Mathieu and there were two other occasions where his carelessness could have cost the team.
This is not to say he’s a liability, but just that as good as he was today there’s room for him to be even better. That should be a scary thought for the entire NFL.
Though Jahri Evans had hardly started the season playing well, it was remarkable to see the change in the offense with Tim Lelito (-7.5) coming into the game. I’ve already mentioned how Darnell Dockett feasted on him in the passing game, but it was the impact of his inclusion on the run game that was most notable.
The Saints, at their best offensively, are a team for whom a balanced offense unbalances the opposition. Here though they came in with a clear game plan of passing and paying little more than lip service to the running game. They would call 22 designed runs in this game and just three of those came in the first half. It’s not hard to see why when Lelito himself was culpable for a tackle for a loss on their opening rush (Q1, 8:01) when he was bested by Calais Campbell.
– Nobody picked up more yards per route run than Jimmy Graham, with 2.98.
– Patrick Peterson played five snaps on offense. That takes him to 13 on the year.
– On defense, the Saints were in a 4-3 front on nine snaps, 3-4 on seven snaps while running a nickel on 20 plays and dime on 20.
– This wasn’t a game where a Saint took over, but the impact of Jimmy Graham was such that he made a number of key plays that put the team in control.