NEW ORLEANS - The Saints defense started out in shaky fashion, allowing the Cardinals to drive 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a three yard touchdown by Alfonso Smith. It looked like the New Orleans defense might be in trouble. Not quite!
Rob Ryan's group took over the rest of the way, forcing two more turnovers and producing numerous sacks of Carson Palmer. It is such a pleasure to watch. Have there been better hires than Cam Cameron at LSU and Rob Ryan with the Saints?
With the exception of one poor decision and throw, resulting in an end zone interception, Drew Brees returned to playing at an elite level. When he does that, you don't need good blocking or a running game. He lifts his teammates. Brees finished 29-of-46 for 342 yards and three scores with the one interception.
After rushing for minus six yards in the first half, the Saints rushed for 110 in the second half, including a couple of good runs by Brees, aka, "The Mad Scrambler." Fran Tarkenton has nothing to be concerned with.
The result was a convincing 31-7 win over Arizona, a dominating second half effort in which the Saints outscored the Cardinals 17-0. New Orleans is now 3-0 for the first time since 2009, heading into a Monday night battle with Miami next week. Here are my quick takes on the big win by the Saints.
**Thomas Morstead got it started with a typical bomb for a touchback. Morstead later kicked one short in the second quarter and paid the price with a long return to the New Orleans 49 by the Cards. He had a mixed bag on kickoffs but punted very well, when called upon.
**The Cardinals converted two consecutive third-and-one situations on their opening drive. Arizona used three different ball carriers on the first possession.
**The Cardinals threw the ball on first down six of seven times on the first drive of the game, which ended on a 3-yard touchdown run by Alfonso Smith.
**Ben Watson was targeted effectively on the first offensive snap of the game by Drew Brees. He was not targeted once at Tampa Bay.
**On the touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Robert Meachem, Jimmy Graham was within three yards of Meachem. Still, the throw was to perfect, it did not matter. Clearly, Meachem is a fly route guy. Welcome back, Rob! He is a good guy who fits very well here.
**Brees was 5-of-6 for 88 yards with a score on the first Saints' drive, a nice continuation from his last drive at Tampa Bay.
**Kenny Vaccaro made a big stop on Kerry Taylor one yard short of a first down to get a stop on Arizona's second possession.
**You were asking yourself--Can the Saints execute a punt without incurring a penalty? Travaris Cadet was flagged for an illegal block on a punt return to Darren Sproles, putting the Saints in the hole at their own 12-yard line. Later, Malcolm Jenkins was flagged for a block in the back on a Saints punt. Later, Darren Sproles returned a punt 28 yards to the New Orleans 42-yard line. He later had another good return in the third quarter to set a scoring drive in motion.
**Brees was sacked twice in the opening quarter, once by Darnell Dockett, who whipped backup Tim Lelito, the other by Sam Acho, who beat Ben Watson. As of the end of the first quarter, Brees had been sacked six times in the last five quarters.
**Brees was 9-of-10 for 117 yards and a score in the first quarter, a QBR of 148.8. Of course, the Saints rushed just one time for minus 2 yards in the quarter.
**While he struggled a bit in the first two games, perhaps due to his hamstring problem, you got a clear picture of what the Saints look like without Jahri Evans. He was missed sorely though Tim Lelito got better as the game progressed.
**Patrick Peterson saw quite a few snaps on offense. His speed must be accounted for by an opposing defense.
**Keenan Lewis short-hopped an errant throw by Carson Palmer in the second quarter. While he did not catch it (cradled it), he should have risen and run to sell the play. You never know...
**Junior Galette had a sack and a pressure while Tyrunn Walker had a pressure of Palmer in the first half.
**Why bother running the football on third-and-one or fourth-and-one? This team has no push, no ability to make a yard in those situations. Of course, they converted one with Darren Sproles later in the game. Sproles gets so low, he is hard to find.
**The Cardinals got Buccaneer disease in the first half. Like Tampa Bay, Arizona tried to cover Jimmy Graham man-to-man too much. Like Tampa Bay, they paid the price. In the third quarter, Graham got man coverage from Tyran Mathieu. That was too easy, going for 29 yards on a very good throw from Brees. It happened again in the fourth quarter when Graham whipped Mathieu for a 19-yard completion and a first down. Yet again, the Cardinals tried to cover Graham man-to-man with a cornerback, Patrick Peterson. The result? A seven-yard touchdown pass from Brees. He was too much for Yeremiah Bell as well. Will they ever learn?
**The Saints defense did a remarkable job in the first half, considering the fact that Arizona had very good field position and short fields throughout the half.
**How about the sequence prior to halftime? Start at your own 4-yard line, throw on first down complete, call timeout, throw two straight incomplete passes from your own 10-yard line when Arizona had just one timeout? Then, you punt it away and call timeout twice, allowing the Cardinals to keep their one timeout. Of course, the Saints defense came through big to keep Arizona from scoring. Naturally, we come to expect this from Sean Payton. It is his DNA—be aggressive always. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
**Of course, Malcolm Jenkins did not help by lining up offside. How does that happen? Jenkins redeemed himself, breaking up a pass from Palmer, intended for Larry Fitzgerald on a third down late in the third quarter. Jenkins had Fitzgerald in man coverage.
**The Saints passed it 27 times, ran it 3 times in the first half. It worked. It was the right thing to do, based on the matchup, no Evans and what Arizona was doing defensively. For the game, New Orleans passed 46 times to just 18 rushing attempts.
**Brees was 16-of-25 for 182 yards and two touchdowns for a QBR of 112.4 in the first half. After a mistake-free first half, he made a bad decision and a bad throw for Lance Moore in the end zone which ball hawk Tyrann Mathieu picked off. Gave away three points again, much like against the Bucs. Got to get points out of 10-play drive. Isn't it appropriate that Mathieu's first career interception came in his hometown?
**Graham is off to a monster start in 2013. He now has two 100+ yard receiving efforts. Who is better in the league at tight end? He has 23 receptions for 358 yards and four touchdowns in three games.
**How good did the Saints defense play? They forced eight straight punts by the Cardinals, an amazing feat. Add in four sacks and two interceptions and you have a winning formula. This defense has allowed a paltry 12.7 points per game through three games, fourth fewest in the league (not counting Oakland heading into Monday night). They have allowed fewer than 20 points in the first three games for just the third time in the third time in their 47 year history. They allowed just 247 total yards to the Cardinals, who came in averaging 24.5 points per game.
**Brees made a great play to shovel a pass to Lance Moore as he was going down late in the third quarter. He actually completed the pass for two yards but was ruled in the grasp, a bad call. Brees had been grabbed and got rid of the ball before he went down.
**Brees went over 300 yards passing for the eighth consecutive game, one short of his own NFL record. He made a great decision to run on third down from the seven-yard line when he scored. In essence, Brees became the running game, right?
**Other than Marques Colston, where are the other Saints wide receivers? Lance Moore had one catch for a second straight week before leaving with an undisclosed injury in the second half. Kenny Stills was shutout. Of course, Robert Meachem had two catches for 34 yards and a score. For the season, Moore has four receptions, Stills has three and Meachem has two. Colston has been consistent, with 14 receptions for 202 yards and a score.
**The Saints again won the time of possession battle, keeping the ball for 35:31 to just 24:29 for Arizona.
**Kenny Vaccaro is a player. He leads this team in tackles, he gets his first career interception. Excellent pick, it appears.
**Another hometown hero, Keenan Lewis of O. Perry Walker High School, got his first pick as a Saint late in the fourth quarter. That matches his interception total of a year ago.
**Khiry Robinson entered the game late and showed what he showed in the preseason, running hard, hitting the hole quick and running through tackles. Can Mark Ingram do that? Do the Saints really need him?
**What a difference a year makes! At this stage last season, the Saints were 0-3. The Saints are one of seven unbeaten teams heading into a showdown of 3-0 teams against Miami next Monday night. The Dolphins did the Saints a favor, beating the Falcons Sunday. As a result, the Saints are two games clear of Atlanta and Carolina and three games ahead of Tampa Bay through just three weeks. New Orleans is 2-0 in division play and 3-0 in the NFC. That presents a mountain to climb for division opponents and with conference foes.
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