Saints at Cardinals
3:05 p.m. Sunday, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3
Favorite: Cardinals by 2.5
TOP STORYLINE: After a forgettable preseason, the Saints must establish the pass rush
The Saints enter the first week with many questions left to resolve. Most of them are either minor concerns or will be answered in time.
The offense will figure out how to move the ball one way or another. The secondary, in time, will get healthy and should be a formidable unit.
The pass rush is a different story. There are no easy answers there. The preseason only created more concern. Through four games, the Saints recorded only 41 quarterback pressures and hits. Only eight of those came from expected starters.
It remains a mystery how this team is going to get after quarterbacks. Some of the issues can be placed on quarterbacks like Houston’s Brian Hoyer getting rid of the ball extremely fast, but New Orleans needs to find a way to make things uncomfortable for opposing offenses. The Saints say to throw out the preseason.
“I know, and I’m sure you guys know, what we bring to the table and the amount of pressure we can put on a quarterback,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said.
It’s expected New Orleans will call a number of blitzes and designed pressures to get after Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Going with a standard four-man rush did not harvest many results during the preseason.
If New Orleans can find success in the trenches, it should find success in the game. According to Pro Football Focus, Palmer completed only 47.3 percent of his passes last season when under pressure.
Somehow, some way, the Saints need to figure out how to get the job done.
KNOW YOUR OPPONENT
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
Peterson is one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. But he isn’t unbeatable.
The key to beating him in coverage is to run shorter routes with changes in direction. He’s most susceptible against comebacks or curls, in routes or crossing and slants over the middle. If he pairs up on Brandin Cooks often, Cooks should be able to use his speed and suddenness to exploit Peterson. That’s not to say Peterson is easily beaten. He isn’t.
Cardinals WR John Brown
If the Saints have issues at cornerback or safety this week, Brown should be able to exploit those holes.
The second-year receiver showed he was a potent deep threat last season, catching nine pass that traveled 20 or more yards through the air. That number might not seem overly impressive, but consider the revolving door the Cardinals had at quarterback last season, and it should change the view.
Cardinals OLs Earl Watford and Lyle Sendlein
Watford likely will start in place of tackle Bobby Massie, and Sendlein will likely start at center. Guard Mike Iupati is also battling a knee injury. So there will be a lot of new faces and uncertainty on the Arizona offensive line.
That’s a good thing for a Saints team trying to figure out how to generate pass rush. The Cardinals could have some struggles up front. New Orleans will need to take advantage.
1. Time to Breaux out Media, teammates, players on other teams — everyone has had something to say about how great Delvin Breaux is. It’s all been warranted. But this is his chance. With cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jairus Byrd likely out of action, the secondary can’t have any hiccups. It starts with solid cornerback play.
2. Pete or Payton? Coach Sean Payton was noncommittal when asked whether either he or offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael would handle play-calling duties during the season. Payton has always called plays when on the sideline, but the team has taken a hard look at all of its practices this offseason. Maybe change is coming.
3. Running rotation Big questions remain for the running backs. Besides the fact that C.J. Spiller isn’t likely to be on the field, it remains to be seen whether Mark Ingram will remain the main back or if the team will try to rotate Khiry Robinson in. The other question: Will rookie Marcus Murphy fill in for Spiller as the satellite back?
4. Linebacker issues With Dannell Ellerbe likely to miss this week’s game because of a toe injury, linebacker David Hawthorne is going to have fill in at weakside linebacker. That means he’s going to be in coverage more often. He struggled in that capacity during the preseason. The Saints can’t afford hiccups during a regular-season game.
OUT: LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe), RB C.J. Spiller (knee), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), S Jairus Byrd (knee)
-- No real surprises. These players did not practice throughout the week, so it would have been a surprise if any of them would have avoided this classification. The Saints spent the summer preparing for life without Byrd, so replacing him this week will not be an issue. The same goes for Spiller. With Lewis out, Delvin Breaux will go into the starting lineup. David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber should get a good amount of snaps in place of Ellerbe. The Saints will be a better team when all these guys get back, but they should be able to weather the storm for one week.
OUT: G Mike Iupati (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Floyd (hand), TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring), TE Troy Niklas (hamstring)
Nick Underhill: Saints 28, Cardinals 21
Drew Brees is going to move the ball. I have faith in the New Orleans offense. I still have questions about the defense. But for me, what it comes down to is this: Having a questionable offensive line seems worse than having a questionable pass rush. If there are cracks in the Arizona front, the Saints have enough talent to break through and create some pressure and cause mistakes.
Joel A. Erickson: Saints 24, Cardinals 21
New Orleans has plenty of questions to answer. The thing is, Arizona might not be able to take advantage of the Saints’ issues. Arizona’s suspect offensive line — and Carson Palmer’s immobility — could be exactly what New Orleans needs. And the Cardinals’ wide receivers are banged up, like the Saints’ secondary. With that in mind — and Drew Brees — New Orleans pulls one off on the road.
Scott Rabalais: Cardinals 25, Saints 22
Blame Roger Goodell if you want (everyone else does), but for the second straight year the NFL handed the Saints a rough season-opening road trip, with Arizona replacing Atlanta. The Cardinals aren’t unbeatable, but they are a playoff-caliber team with a veteran QB in Carson Palmer who can carve up the Saints if they can’t apply pressure. Otherwise, it’ll be another frustrating road loss to start the season.