Cardinals vs. Saints: 3 keys to an Arizona Week 3 win over New Orleans

Christian Petersen

Three keys to the Cardinals success this Sunday and a matchup to watch against the Saints.

The Arizona Cardinals have not won a road game against the New Orleans Saints since Sept. 22, 1996. They have traveled to New Orleans just three times since then, including the 45-14 playoff loss in Jan. of 2010, so that timeline is a bit misleading.

Once again, the Cardinals are playing a team on an anniversary of a previous matchup. Last week, it was the Detroit Lions on the 73rd anniversary of a 0-0 tie; this week, it's the Saints 17 years after the last road win in New Orleans.

That clearly means they'll win this game Sunday. Right? They'll have a good shot if these keys come to fruition.

Limit Drew Brees

Since signing with the Saints in 2006, Drew Brees is 25-5 (.833) at home when he accumulates a passer rating of at least 100.0. When he doesn't, he is just 12-14 (.462).

The New Orleans offense runs through Brees -- everyone knows that. The offense goes as he goes.

A good way to limit Brees is by taking away wideout Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham. The latter is going to be far more difficult than the former, but both can be done.

The Cardinals did a nice job with Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew a week ago. Aside from the fluky 72-yard touchdown, Patrick Peterson held Johnson to three receptions for 24 yards (8.0 YPC), according to ProFootballFocus. Pettigrew caught three passes for 32 yards (10.7 YPC) and was largely ineffective.

The best way to limit Brees is by getting pressure on him. When under pressure, Brees has completed just 47.6 percent of his passes. When not, it jumps to 70.0 percent. Clearly, there's something there.

Here's the problem: Arizona has just one sack through two games this season -- tied for last in the NFL.

Limiting Brees and the Saints offense is a massive challenge, and the Cardinals have not been good at defending quarterbacks so far. This could be problematic Sunday.

The Rob Housler effect

Last week's win was due in large part to the second-half performance from the defense and by the running backs having good afternoons. To get a win this week, both those areas will still need to be up to par, but tight end Rob Housler could be an even bigger key to success.

He makes his season debut Sunday, and he will be important to the offense staying on the field -- expect him to have multiple third-down targets.

Housler adds a different dimension to the offense with his combination of size and speed, so feeding him the ball as often as possible is a good idea if you're Carson Palmer. He will line up everywhere in an attempt to exploit personnel mismatches throughout the game, and Palmer recognizing those mismatches is important.

But it goes beyond just finding Housler. He will have the attention of the linebackers, and that means there could be extra lanes open in all phases of the passing game.

Arizona's talented wideouts could see a rise in their yards after the catch because of Housler being on the field. Defenses are not afraid of Jim Dray's athletic ability. No offense to the veteran, but he's simply not on Housler's level ability-wise.

If Palmer gets on a roll with Housler and draws the attention of a safety, even for one play, that could leave Palmer with a wide-open wideout downfield.

And that is an ideal situation for Palmer and the offense.

Be situationally better

Third-down and red-zone opportunities went by the wayside against the Lions. It was a miracle the team won considering how bad its situational football was (but again, a win is a win is a win).

Housler should help, as he provides Palmer with another big target for third downs and when the team is in the red zone. But others must step up when given the opportunity.

Palmer, for example, completed 4 of 10 (40.0%) for 20 yards, 2.0 YPA and an interception on third down last week. And for the season, both his interceptions came on third down as well as three of the five sacks he's taken.

It's on everyone, and everyone must step up in order to make this upset happen.

Matchup to watch: Anyone vs. Jimmy Graham

It may not matter who covers Graham Sunday. He is a better receiver than the Rams' Jared Cook is, and he has a better quarterback throwing him passes. If the Cardinals can't stop him, it could be a very long day for the defense.

Last week, Graham tallied 10 receptions for 179 yards (17.9 YPC) and a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it's feasible to see similar numbers this week without anyone to stop him.

You should be worried if your fantasy opponent has Graham in the lineup this week.

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