I did a back and forth Q&A with Gilbert Torres of saintsgab.com. Here is what we both had to say about Saturday’s matchup.
Questions from Saintsgab.com
SG: The Cardinals gave up over 400 yards passing and 4 TD passes to Green Bay last week. What will the Cardinals do defensively to slow down the Saints offense?
RZ: Good question. What can they do? They basically have five days to prepare for an offense that is, on paper, even better than Green Bay. Drew Brees, at least right now, is a better quarterback. I don’t think you should see New Orleans score 45, but I also don’t think the defense can keep them under 20. Brees has just as many, if not more weapons than Rodgers was able to utilize last Sunday.
SG: What will the Cardinals do on offense to exploit mismatches in the Saints’ defense?
RZ: Do what they’ve always done. No need to change the game plan. Quick releases by Warner in the passing game to avoid blitz’s, and keep a hard balance early on between the running game and passing game like they did last week. After 30 plays last week, they had the same number of running plays as they did passing plays. Look for more cross patterns from the receivers. New Orleans is at their best when they take the ball away from you. You can be sure Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower will be focused on holding onto the ball, something they had trouble with on a consistent basis throughout the regular season.
SG: Who or what is your X Factor for this game? (anything you think may affect the outcome of the game)
RZ: Believe it or not, the kicking game. In a game we expect to be a shootout, sometimes things you expect don’t always come to fruition. This could easily end up being a game like 23-20. In that case, field position is key. This is where the Cards punter Ben Graham comes in. He was a master at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the 10 yard lines all season. As for kicker Neil Rackers, a kick from him could ultimately be the difference. He had a tough game last week. How he rebounds could decide what the Cards plans are for next weekend.
SG: How do you think having a bye week and resting players at the end of the season will affect the Saints? Is having momentum going into the playoffs true or overrated?
RZ: Hard to say. I say it depends on the team. For a team like the Cardinals, I think it was important they played last week. Sure they will have only five days of rest but having played recently will help this team. They have been inconsistent all season and they play better when they don’t have as much time off. For the Saints, I’m not sure the week off normally would have been an issue, however the starters didn’t play in week 17 and they didn’t play well at all the two weeks before that. Everyone is professional though and the Saints didn’t win 13 games on their good looks. They did something right and they are home. I don’t see either team having that great of an edge based on the bye for the Saints.
SG: How will playing an emotional overtime game and preparing for this game on a short week affect the Cardinals?
RZ: It only affects them in the sense they had one less day of practice and they had to cut their day off in half on Tuesday. They didn’t experience too many tough injuries in Sunday’s win, however linebacker Gerald Hayes is questionable. Again, these are professionals and they’ve dealt with shorter weeks in the past without much issue.
Questions from Raisingzona
RZ: The Saints starters haven’t played in almost three weeks now and they haven’t won a game or played well in a month. Do you think that has any bearing on how the Saints will play on Saturday?
SG: I think the Saints did a good job getting their swagger back in the bye week. They spent a couple of practices last week working on fundamentals and creating a fun, competitive pre-season like atmosphere. The team is recharged, refocused and eager to strap on that helmet and play.
Yes, the Saints haven’t been playing well lately, partly due to injury, partly execution. Having Jeremy Shockey back on offense will help pass protection. Jabari Greer’s return will most definitely help the secondary and allow Darren Sharper to take more risks in coverage. If anything, the Saints may show some rust the first couple of series of the game, with some new wrinkles, but they will turn it up when they need to.
RZ: Do you think having New Orleans at home is a huge advantage? The Cardinals had the second best NFC road record at 6-2. Will the noise inside the Superdome be a factor?
SG: Huge factor..anytime you can play at home this late in the playoffs it’s to your advantage. I think the short week and the emotional Packers game will be more of a factor. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if the Cards, particularly on defense, can play with the same intensity late into the 4th quarter.
Noise is another thing the Cardinals have to be ready for. The Superdome is perhaps the loudest stadium in the NFL. If the crowd is in the game, it is very hard to hear on the playing field. The Dallas Cowboys came in last month and talked post game about the crowd noise late in the game and how they could not communicate and that pretty much shut down their offense for a stretch.
RZ: Do you think this game will be a shootout like everyone is predicting, or do you a surprise defensive battle?
SG: No doubt it’s gonna be a shootout. Both offenses are too good to be held down. I think the Saints are going to have some trouble with the WR crossing patterns the Cards like to run. The Cards are simply just quicker than the Saints in that matchup. Beanie Wells will get some yards because of the threat of the pass.
The Saints are too good and have too many weapons on offense to be held down either. With a bye week and game film of last week, the Saints should be well prepared to face this Cardinal defense.
RZ: Given the regular season success, would a loss to the Cards make this season considered a failure by the Saints and its fans?
SG: Yeah, it would be a disappointment, considering all the hype we had at 13-0. At that point, the whole city was talking about being perfect and booking flights to Miami. So a loss would only magnify that disappointment. Of course, Coach Payton would get his fair share of boo birds calling of the way he’s handled the last month of the season.
But I think Payton has handled the last couple of weeks well. Payton knows his team well and knows the high level this team can play when healthy. The veteran leadership has done a good job as well for this team. After the Tampa loss, Drew Brees got the team together and reminded them that this season was a journey, not a sprint and to go back to enjoying the ride, something that had been lost on the team the last couple of weeks. The Saints have responded with some of their best practices since the preseason.
Disappointment..yes. Failure..no. This team has accomplished a lot this season and all the awards and accolades are deserved. Building a championship team is a step by step process and sometimes losing to a team that been there serves as a stepping stone to future success.
RZ: What is you prediction for this game?
SG: I think it will be a see-saw back and forth game that’s going to be tense for three quarters. The Saints pull away late for a 48-38 win.