The Arizona Cardinals kick off their 2015 season against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. We know about Drew Brees and we know Jimmy Graham isn't on the team anymore, having been traded to the Seattle Seahawks. What else is there to know?
JR Ella from Canal Street Chronicles was kind enough to answer some questions to give us some info on the Cards first opponent.
1. So we hear Brandin Cooks is pretty good. Tell us about him and what he adds to the offense.
As a team that has John Brown in its wide receiving corps, you are already familiar with the type of player Brandin Cooks is and what he can do: smaller, lightning fast and can line up pretty much everywhere within the offensive formation, except maybe on the offensive line.
Cooks was having a really good rookie year in 2014 (53 recs, 550 yds, 3 touchdowns) when a wrist injury landed him on IR after only 10 games. This offseason, Cooks seems to have come back stronger and hungrier. Brees told the media the story of Cooks calling him to work out as soon as his injury had healed, when Brees was thinking about resting a bit in the offseason. If what we saw from Cooks in training camp and in the preseason is foreshadowing the regular season, the second-year wideout is going to have a stellar season and is going to be Brees' absolute go-to guy this year.
2. What does no Jimmy Graham mean this year? How will the offense change, if at all?
"No Jimmy Graham" is a big loss for the Saints. Offensively, you simply can't replace 6'7", 260 lbs., sure hands and cat-like leaping ability. Where the Saints will suffer the most is in the red zone near the goal line, where you could simply throw it up to Jimmy and more often than not he'd catch it.
However, what the Saints are going to enjoy about not having Graham anymore is Brees distributing the ball around a bit more and being a bit less Graham-centric. Although Cooks is likely the number one receiving option for Brees this season, the Saints' offense has always been at its best when Brees hits seven, eight, even nine different targets in a game.
3. The loss of Junior Galette obviously is not good, although it was his own doing. What does the NO defense look like? Is there a pass rushing threat? What about the beat up secondary that was so bad last year? What will be the strength of the Saints defense?
Hahahaha...sorry, I couldn't help but laugh a bit when you called it a "defense." Ok, I'm being harsh, but the 31st-ranked defense from last season has looked just as bad this preseason. Now to answer your question: there is a pass rushing threat, and his name is Cam Jordan. Unfortunately, he has been involved in an alleged bar altercation in New Orleans. The investigation is pending so I think he'll play, but he's sure to be a bit distracted with that dark cloud hovering above his head. Another player to keep an eye on is rookie linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha (No. 44) out of Washington. He is a raw, yet he may be the purest pass rusher on the Saints' defense.
4. How much does Drew Brees have left in the tank and what are his expectations for the season?
Oh Brees has plenty left in the tank. He had a high number of interceptions last season (17) and a lot of them came at the worst possible moment or were returned for touchdowns. Despite that, Brees had 33 touchdowns, was sixth in the NFL in quarterback rating and Pro Football Focus had Brees ranked second overall among all quarterbacks in the NFL last year, behind only Aaron Rodgers. Not as bad as many pundits made it sound.
The Saints throw the ball a ton (Brees led the league last year with 659 attempts) which increases the risk of interceptions. This year however, we get the sense in New Orleans that Sean Payton wants to lighten the load on Brees' back and run the ball a bit more. If New Orleans sticks to that admitted plan, Brees should have very good season and may even have yet another great year.
5. Game prediction: Who wins and why?
The homer in me would love to say: the Saints win a close one...but I'm a (sometimes) reasonable and responsible homer. I think that the Cardinals win this one because of their defense, which finds a way to turn Brees over once or twice, while the Saints' defense with its deficient pass rush can't put enough pressure on Carson Palmer. I see this one ending with a 34-20 score in favor of Arizona.