Behind Enemy Lines: Saints prepare for Week 15 showdown with Cardinals
It’ll be a battle of disappointing five-win teams Sunday when the New Orleans Saints visit the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
The Saints (5-8) come in having lost two straight while having their normally high-flying offense shut down in the process. After putting up an NFL season-high 49 points in a 28-point win over the Los Angeles Rams over Thanksgiving weekend, the Saints’ offense has sputtered. In back-to-back losses to Detroit and Tampa Bay, they’ve managed only 24 points and one offensive touchdown — a 1-yard run by fullback John Kuhn against the Lions.
Veteran quarterback Drew Brees has failed to throw a touchdown pass in the last two contests, the first that’s happened since 2009.
All week, we’ll keep you up to date on everything happening in the Big Easy as the Saints get ready to head west to face the Cardinals.
It’s Behind Enemy Lines…
Saturday, December 17
Take a look at a few of the key matchups heading into Sunday’s game, including how Drew Brees will handle the Cardinals’ secondary and how the Saints attempt to stop David Johnson.
• Despite third-straight season of disappointment, Saints still believe they’re headed in the right direction (The New Orleans Advocate)
Losers of four of the last five, the Saints are in a rut trying to reach the postseason. While Drew Brees has not had the best performances recently, the quarterback continues to see the good in things and believes this team is heading the right direction.
• Pregame primer: All the storylines as New Orleans Saints face off with Arizona Cardinals (The New Orleans Advocate)
New Orleans enters a tough game in the desert against the Cardinals, as they struggle to hang onto playoff aspirations. Drew Brees hopes to bounceback after experiencing a bad stretch of games.
Despite sitting at 5-8 and still mathematically alive for the postseason, the Saints have endured a dismal season, including losing four of the past five games. New Orleans hopes to finish strong as they finish their season against the NFC South co-leaders Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.
Friday, December 16
Saints receiver Michael Thomas and running back Mark Ingram did not have their questionable tags on the injury report Friday. Thomas practiced fully on Friday after missing last week’s game.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan has been one of the league’s best defenders at his position in 2016. He’s been an overall monster on the edge. Jordan is probably the most deserving Saints player to make the Pro Bowl this season.
The New Orleans Saints were officially without two defensive players Thursday ahead of Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Cornerback Delvin Breaux (shoulder) and linebacker Stephone Anthony (knee) did not practice Thursday, marking a second consecutive day the duo missed game-week preparation.
“I think it’s fair,” he said of Payton’s critique. “I think everybody goes through a growth stage, you know. Sometimes as a linebacker you can have a misread. I think there are certain things I can get better at, but I think coach Payton was right on.”
• Saints running back Tim Hightower heads back to where it all started in Arizona (The New Orleans Advocate)
“That was home for me,” Hightower said. “From a college kid living in a dorm room to finding a house, that excitement of becoming a pro, a dream finally coming to fruition, that started in Arizona.”
• Saints’ surging defense faces off against NFL’s most versatile weapon in Arizona back David Johnson (The New Orleans Advocate)
With the exception of Atlanta’s impressive dual-threat combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman – a matchup that flummoxed New Orleans – and San Diego’s Melvin Gordon – a matchup New Orleans won, the Saints haven’t played many backs as capable as both runners and receivers as Johnson.
In fact, there might only be one other running back in the NFL who presents the kind of problems Johnson gives a defense.
Anthony showed some signs of life last week when he was thrust back into the starting lineup because of an injury to Craig Robertson. But Saints coach Sean Payton was extremely candid this week about what has been holding Anthony back — some of which is very basic stuff.
Drew Brees returned to full practice participation Thursday after getting some rare rest on Wednesday. Running back Mark Ingram returned to practice on a limited basis after missing Wednesday. And receiver Michael Thomas and center Max Unger continued to practice on a limited basis.
Up until two weeks ago, Brees was having one of the best seasons of his career. He still is, technically, except for the stat that matters most for NFL quarterbacks — wins. The Saints are now 5-8 and virtually eliminated from the playoffs.
• ESPN Ranks New Orleans Saints Offensive Line Number One (Canal Street Chronicles)
Despite concerns during the offseason, the offensive line has been one of the bright spots this season. The big boys up front are the top rated O-line according to ESPN and this is with Terron Armstead who the Saints placed on IR yesterday, missing half of the season. 2015 draft pick Andrus Peat has had to switch back and forth between LT and LG. This may also come as a surprise, but the O-line is tied for 1st in the NFL with fewest penalties. Max Unger who missed his 1st game this season against the Buccaneers, was sorely missed last week.
Thursday, December 15
Statistically, the Saints have shown improvement in some areas. They are averaging more yards (418.3 ranks first in NFL) and points (27.5 ranks second) on offense than both of the previous two seasons. On defense, the Saints are allowing fewer yards than the past two seasons (366.7 ranks 24th). The 27 points allowed, which ranks 30th, is better than the 29.8 from 2015, but slightly worse than the 26.5 from 2014.
Zero touchdown passes. Six interceptions. Two losses.
Those numbers alone would suggest a slumping 37-year-old who might have lost his passing touch after a season-opening stretch of 11 games that at times had him on pace for some impressive single-season records.
Not that Brees has much interest in hearing from critics.
• Saints’ Mark Ingram (toe, knee) misses practice Wednesday; Drew Brees (not injury related) limited (NOLA.com)
Running back Mark Ingram is among four players the New Orleans Saints list as not practicing Wednesday.
Ingram, who has been dealing with toe and knee injuries, was joined by cornerback Delvin Breaux (shoulder), linebacker Stephone Anthony (knee) and rookie running back Daniel Lasco (hamstring) as non-participants as the Saints prepare to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15.
• Drew Brees believes he’ll bounce back from rough stretch: ‘I know how to fix it’ (The New Orleans Advocate)
Up until the last two weeks, Drew Brees was on pace for one of his best statistical seasons at the age of 37.
Accurate and explosive, the Saints’ passing game had Brees at the top of the league in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns, and he was among the NFL’s leaders in quarterback rating.
Then Brees turned in one of the worst two-game stretches of his career. Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass and tossed three interceptions in two consecutive games, a pair of losses that left the Saints without a victory despite solid defensive performances.
• Source: Saints place Terron Armstead on IR, ending injury-plagued season (The New Orleans Advocate)
Armstead battled knee and quad injuries throughout the season and missed six games and left two others early due to injury. Overall, he played 43.4 percent of the snaps this season. He played all 61 snaps against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
• It’s now 2017 or bust for Saints power trio (ESPN.com)
I don’t think Saints coach Sean Payton or general manager Mickey Loomis will meet the same fate as Fisher at the end of this season — and I don’t think they should just yet. I also strongly believe the Saints should hang on to quarterback Drew Brees until they find their own version of Dak Prescott to replace him.
But I think it’s now “2017 or bust” for all three of them.
Wednesday, December 14
Brandin Cooks has led the New Orleans Saints in targets the past two games after publicly expressing his frustration with his role in the offense.
However, Cooks and quarterback Drew Brees both laughed at the idea that Brees is forcing the ball to Cooks in the two games since he had no targets against the Los Angeles Rams.
“That’s one of those annoying ridiculous things I mentioned earlier,” Brees said.
Colleague Larry Holder and I break down the New Orleans Saints’ 16-11 loss to Tampa Bay, look ahead to their Week 15 matchup in Arizona and answer reader/listener questions in this week’s edition of the Dat Chat podcast.
Justin Zimmer joined the 10-player squad after the undrafted free agent rookie spent the offseason and most of the preseason with the Buffalo Bills, who waived him Aug. 30.
Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals has the feel of one of those second-tier bowl games in which the two disappointing participants are playing solely for pride.
Neither the Saints (5-8) nor the Cardinals (5-7-1) have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. But both teams know the score. And the same quotes about refusing to quit, continuing to fight and having professional pride were coming out of both locker rooms this week.
• Source: Saints sign LB Jason Trusnik (New Orleans Advocate)
The Saints have made a move to further bolster their special teams units by signing linebacker Jason Trusnik, according to a source.
Trusnik, who has been in the league since 2007, has also played for the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins. He most recently played for the Minnesota Vikings in 2015.
Tuesday, December 13
Roman Harper plans to have as much fun as possible as he looks ahead to the final three games of the season.
Will those three games also mark the end of his 11-year career?
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m not saying either way, now is not the time.”
Harper said he would pray for an answer after the season.
Sunday, December 18th, 2016: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona (2:05 p.m. MST)
But the Saints appear to have hit on both of their 2016 second-rounders: the Ohio State duo of receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell. Combined with first-round defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, this has the potential to become one of the strongest draft classes in the Sean Payton-Mickey Loomis era.
The past two weeks have been historically bad for Drew Brees. As ESPN fantasy analyst Tristan Cockroft noted, it’s the first time Brees has posted back-to-back single-digit point games since 2009.
• First Look: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals (New Orleans Advocate)
LAST WEEK: A snakebitten season for the Cardinals was marked by another tough loss last week. They took a 26-23 defeat in the rain to the Miami Dolphins on Andrew Franks’ game-winning 21-yard field goal as time expired.
- Justin Pugh had to leave unlikely friendship to sign with Cardinals
- New Cardinals OL Justin Pugh talks college, Pat Tillman, West Coast
- Former Cardinals QB Matt Barkley signs with Bengals
- Free agent CB EJ Gaines visiting Arizona Cardinals
- Cardinals free agent Jaron Brown agrees to one-year deal with Seattle