The Arizona Cardinals head to the Louisiana Superdome to face the high-powered New Orleans Saints on Sunday in Week Three of the NFL season.
Let's take a look at this week's matchup:
NEW ORLEANS (2-0)
The Saints enter the game with two narrow victories over Atlanta and Tampa Bay, respectively. Sean Payton is back as head coach after serving a year-long suspension in 2012. It will be a tall task indeed for the Cardinals to contain the likes of Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, among others. but it is something they're going to have to do in order to win.
Darren Sproles is another fabulous weapon at Brees' disposal, especially as a pass-catcher coming out of the backfield. New Orleans will use Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram as well in their backfield. Neither are elite players. Brees is, of course, and is seeking his eighth straight 300-yard passing game.
The Saints had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL last season but appear to be turning the corner under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the brother of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. So far they've given up the sixth-fewest points (31) and 11th fewest yards (610) this season. They have also produced four sacks and four turnovers.
"We are flying pretty high as a defense,'' Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton told yahoosports.com. "Last year is last year, that's in the past. This is a new team, new defense, new defensive coordinator, so we moved way past that.''
New Orleans has captured six of the last seven meetings between the two squads.
Fortunately it appears that tight end Rob Housler will play his first game of the season. Housler has been dealing with a high ankle sprain but has been practicing this week. He led the Cards in receiving yards for tight ends last season and will be a viable target for quarterback Carson Palmer down the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Palmer has completed 61 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions and will also rely on wide receivers Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. As always, Arizona's offensive line must protect Palmer for him to be successful. They made solid progress last week against the Lions.
Rashard Mendenhall is listed as questionable with a toe injury but may start. Expect to see a lot of rookie Andre Ellington, who caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Palmer and added 20 rushing yards against Detroit.
Defensively, the Cardinals miss suspended linebacker Daryl Washington, who is eligible to return in Week Five. He was Arizona's sack leader last season and the Red Birds need to put as much pressure on Brees as possible to get him out of rhythm. Cornerback Patrick Peterson should be matched up on Colston, so that is a terrific matchup to watch. Safety Tyrann Mathieu has been excellent is his rookie campaign- he can create turnovers by stripping the ball away. Arizona also must be aware of Graham, who is a nightmare to defend because of his athleticism. He's simply the best tight end in the league.
Prediction: This is a tough matchup for the Cardinals. Fitzgerald needs to be near 100 percent to give his team a great chance of winning but the Saints simply have too many weapons. Saints 31, Cardinals 20.
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