The Arizona Cardinals defense was embarrassed Wild Card Weekend by the Green Bay Packers. It does not get any easier in the divisional round as they now have to deal with Drew Brees and a potent New Orleans Saints offense.
Before getting into some specifics on what to watch from New Orleans, this is a winnable game for the Cardinals.
New Orleans peaked too early in the season. I am not going to count the Saints final regular season game against the Panthers because Drew Brees did not play, but the Saints are not clicking on all fronts like they were when they started off 13-0.
The Saints best performance was a Week 12 demolition of the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
Since then they have not been the same team. Drew Brees and company struggled at Washington and Atlanta in weeks 13 and 14. In the Atlanta game the Falcons had Chris Redman at QB instead of the injured Matt Ryan and Jason Snelling handling the running back duties with starting RB Michael Turner out of the lineup.
After those two disappointing performances the Saints brought their struggles with them home to Louisiana as they lost back-to-back games to the Dallas Cowboy and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Including the loss Week 17 to the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans has not played a quality football game since defeating the Pats. Now, I am done side tracking, onto the Saints offense.
The most interesting thing I have seen Saints Head Coach Sean Payton do with New Orleans’ offense this season is his use of #1 WR Marques Colston. When you think of your prototypical slot wide receiver you think of someone in the mold of the Patriots’ Wes Welker- short, small build, great hands, and quick. The Saints think out of the box and you will see the big, strong, thick Colston in the slot a lot Saturday afternoon. In a copy cat league I expect more teams to start to use this strategy next year. This allows Colston to be matched up against teams nickel corners if the opposing teams defensive coordinator doesn’t adjust. I am interested to see how Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis and Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt gameplan for this.
With Colston lining up in the slot the Saints open things up for him with their two speedsters, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem on the outside. Henderson averaged 15.8 yards per catch and Meachem averaged 16. I am sure the Saints saw what Greg Jennings was able to accomplish last week and will be looking to get one-on-one opportunities with the wideouts against the Cardinals corners.
The strategy I would take if I were running the Cardinals defense would be to have Bryant McFadden in the slot against Colston, DRC lined up with Robert Meachem, and Michael Adams on Devery Henderson with safety help over the top. The key to defending the Saints passing game is for Rodgers-Cromartie to be able to take one of the Saints wide receivers out of play without help, allowing the rest of the secondary to concentrate on the other Saints weapons.
The Cardinals are also going to have to gameplan for three different style running backs. Mike Bell is the Saints bruiser, Reggie Bush is the pass catcher/outside runner, and Pierre Thomas does a little bit of everything. The Packers had success running the ball with Ryan Grant, but they could not use him a lot because they fell behind early. If the Cardinals can get ahead early again they can turn the Saints into a one dimensional passing team just like they did with the Packers – just hope they have a little more success defending it than they did last week.
Lastly, Arizona has to deal with New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey. The loud, obnoxious tight end patrols the middle of the field with Colston opening everything up on the outside for the above mentioned speedsters. My gameplan for him would be to send one of his old Miami buddies to take him out on the town Friday night and get him liquored up. We all know Shockey can’t pass on a fun night out on the town.