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Previewing Saints vs. Cardinals Thursday Night Matchup

Kyler Murray

This week's TNF matchup between the Saints and the Cardinals features two teams sitting at 2-4 on the season, yet only a game back in their respective divisions. The parity in the NFL is at an all-time high. Literally, anyone can be beaten on any given Sunday. I think we are all hoping for an exciting Thursday night matchup after a couple of yawners the past two weeks. Both of these teams possess the ability to be explosive and put points on the board.

New Orleans Offense vs. Arizona Defense

This matchup will pit Saints OC Pete Carmichael Jr. against Cardinals DC Vance Joseph. The Saints are averaging 23.5 points 382 total yards per game, which are good for 12th and sixth in the NFL, respectively. The strength of the Saints’ offense is their ground game, led by Alvin Kamara. As a team, they rush for just over 150 yards per game, with Kamara averaging 4.6 yards per rush, even though he is yet to record a rushing TD through six games. Also a favorite target in the passing game, Kamara is currently second on the team in receptions (17) for 135 yards. I would expect the Saints to try to rectify his zero TD stat on Thursday night.

With Jameis Winston still recovering from back and ankle injuries and Andy Dalton dealing with a back issue, the Saints' starting quarterback is up in the air. It's likely Dalton gets the nod and will be backed up by the versatile Taysom Hill, who presents a unique challenge for the Cardinals defense. Hill is second on the team in yards rushing (267), with a 10.3 average and 5 rushing TDs. Most of these rushing TDs come in the red zone on designed QB runs, even though he has broken a 60-yarder for a score on a short-yardage situation near midfield. It will be up to Vance Joseph and the Arizona defense to try and slow down this rushing attack and figure out how to defend this offense with the Dalton-Hill QB combo.

New Orleans does a fantastic job of mixing up its personnel groups on nearly every play. What makes it an even bigger problem for the defense is they don't signal personnel groups as they make substitutions. It has and will be a huge challenge for Arizona to try to figure this out and have the appropriate defensive group on the field to match the Saints' personnel/situation. The wide receiver group for the Saints is banged up with players like Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry set to miss time.

Look for Arizona to load up the box and try to take away Kamara, Ingram and Hill in the run game to force the QB to make plays with his arm. Arizona's defense is giving up 337 yards a game and 23.7 points on average, but they are stingy versus the run, ranking seventh in the NFL.

One stat that sticks out: Arizona has forced 8 fumbles, recovering 5, which ranks fourth in the NFL. New Orleans will want to stay ahead of the chains and stay out of third-and-long situations. That is when Vance Joseph and the Cardinals defense love to get after the passer with their highly effective zone and man pressure schemes — frequently bringing secondary personnel, especially safety Budda Baker. J.J. Watt, Zach Allen, and Zaven Collins all have 2-plus sacks on the season.

Arizona Cardinals Offense vs. New Orleans Defense 

The Arizona offense and Kyler Murray struggled last week versus a Seahawk defense that was giving up 31 points per game and ranked last in total defense going into Week 6. The Cards scored just 9 points, and only 3 were scored by their offense in the loss, while amassing only 315 total yards. They went 0-for-2 in the red zone and turned the ball over two times.

On the season, this Arizona offense is middle of the pack in most major stats, ranking 16th in total yards, 15th in rush offense and 17th in pass offense. Where the Cardinals have really struggled is on third down, ranking 28th. Injuries have plagued them, and it looks like they will be without starting offensive linemen Justin Pugh and Rodney Hudson. Marquise Brown is out indefinitely with a foot injury that he suffered in the Seahawks game. RB1, James Conner, will likely be a game-time decision as he deals with a knee injury.

To replace Brown, the Cards on Tuesday traded for Robbie Anderson. This is a move that gives Arizona a deep threat, and a guy who can take the top off any defense. DeAndre Hopkins also returns to the lineup after serving a six-game suspension for a PED violation. Hopkins will likely be on a pitch count due to a short week and limited practice time, and it is a big question whether Anderson will be up and running for this game. Along with Hopkins, tight end Zach Ertz should be targeted a bunch in this game along with Rondale Moore. Look for Eno Benjamin to produce in the run game, especially if Conner sits.

The Saints' front seven is as good as it gets in the NFL. They have playmakers at all three levels: Cam Jordan up front, Demario Davis and Pete Werner at the second level, and Tyrann Mathieu directing traffic in the back end. These dudes will force this Arizona offense to execute at a very high level to be able to move the ball and score points. Blocking Jordan is a MUST. He is a mismatch versus tight ends in the run game and tackles in the pass game.

Marcus Davenport anchors the DE spot opposite of Jordan and Shy Tuttle and David Onyemata make it extremely difficult to run between the tackles.

Marshon Lattimore, who most definitely would have shadowed Hopkins in this game, will miss this one due to injury. It will now come down to Paulson Adebo, Bradley Roby and Justin Evans to defend not only Hopkins, but deal with the likes of Moore, A.J. Green, Greg Dortch, and possibly Anderson.

This defensive front for the Saints will have to be very disciplined with their pass-rush lanes and not let Murray escape outside the pocket to make plays with his legs and arm talent. If they can make him throw from the well, this will go a long way in their success versus Murray and the explosive threat of the Cards’ offense.

Final Thoughts

I think with Connor questionable and Arizona's inability to consistently run the ball, Dennis Allen and the Saints defense will play a shell coverage, stop the run with a light box and devote seven in coverage for the majority of the early downs. If New Orleans can force Arizona into third-and-long situations, then the Saints can open up the playbook and throw exotic pressures at Murray to try and force him into making mistakes and turning over the ball.

Again, we are all hoping for an exciting, high-scoring game with tons of action and explosive plays. There will be opportunities for some players who do not have household names yet to show what they can do and why their teams took a chance on them.

Watch More: Cam's Corner Week 6