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Six Points: Hard times in the ‘Big Easy’ for Arizona Cardinals

Before I started writing this, I had to check my calendar, you know, just to make sure it was indeed 2013.

Because watching the Arizona Cardinals get pummeled 31-7 by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday felt a lot like 2012. And 2011. And 2010.

Many of the same issues that have plagued the Cardinals over the last three seasons reared their ugly heads again Sunday as Arizona fell to 1-2 on the season with another road game at Tampa Bay looming next week.

Here are six things that stood out to me from the Cardinals’ loss in The Big Easy.

1. Pass protection – Many who watched the game will pin a lot of responsibility on quarterback Carson Palmer, who completed just 18-of-35 passes for 187 yards and threw two interceptions. Palmer wasn’t great, but he was under constant pressure from a Saints’ defense that looks completely rejuvenated by the return of head coach Sean Payton and the hiring of new coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans came into the game with four sacks in their first two games, a figure they matched against the Cardinals. Cameron Jordan had two sacks, while Junior Galette and rookie Glenn Foster each got to Palmer once. Tackles Levi Brown and Eric Winston struggled to keep anybody out of the backfield the entire game. Bobby Massie has not been active on Sunday in the first three weeks of the season, but that might need to change.

2. What happened after that first drive? – As is his custom, head coach Bruce Arians took the ball after winning the toss (deferring be damned), and the Cards’ offense chewed right through the Saints’ defense, going 80 yards on 11 plays — a possession that took almost six minutes off the clock. The drive featured six runs by three different players and five passes to three different receivers. Palmer went 4-of-5 for 44 yards on the drive. On their next eight possessions, the Cardinals netted 97 yards. The play differential for the rest of the game looked like this: 34 passes (including sacks) and 10 runs. Granted, the Cardinals were chasing New Orleans the entire game, but the Saints only led 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter. For the game, the Cardinals averaged 4.6 yards per pass attempt and 5.4 yards per rushing attempt. Something’s not adding up.

3. Darnell Dockett shows up – Without Dan Williams, who was not with the team because of a family tragedy, Darnell Dockett stepped up and played the best game he’s played in years. The veteran from Florida State was the best player on the defense, registering three sacks for a total loss of 14 yards. Dockett had been crowing about how happy he was in coordinator Todd Bowles’ system, but we didn’t see any production in Weeks 1 and 2. That changed Sunday.

4. Missing Daryl Washington – Every team in the league has trouble matching up with New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham. Without Daryl Washington, the Cardinals struggled to even stay close to the Saints’ Pro Bowler. Graham had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns — and almost had a third (Graham fell victim to the ‘Calvin Johnson’ rule). Nobody is saying Washington would have shut down Graham, but at the very least, he would have provided a little resistance. The Cardinals tried everything to stop Graham, putting linebackers, safeties and even Patrick Peterson on Graham. Nothing worked.

5. Tackling – There is no official stat kept on it, so it would require going back and watching the game again to count them, but for the second time in three games, the Cardinals missed a ton of tackles.

6. Do yourself a favor – If Fox continues to assign their bottom-of-the-barrel broadcasting crews to Cardinals’ telecasts, turn down the sound to the TV and listen to Dave Pasch and Ron Wolfley call the game. For the second straight Sunday, viewers were subjected to the Sam Rosen-Heath Evans crew. Rosen is a veteran, and for the most part, does a passable job. Heath Evans, who played for the Saints for two seasons, practically had his black and gold pom-poms out during the game. And can somebody please tell him it’s Tyrann Mathieu (pronounced Matthew), not “Matthews” as he has said numerous times in the last two weeks?