The Arizona Cardinals won their home opener for the ninth time in the last 10 years, defeating the New Orleans Saints 31-19 Sunday afternoon. They got more than 300 passing yards from Carson Palmer and three touchdowns. They also rushed the ball for 120 yards.
What did we learn in the win? Here are some things
Running backs are the new tight ends?
The knock on the Cardinals defense has been how they always seem to get hurt by opposing tight ends. However, against the Saints, they gave up only 19 yards on three receptions to Ben Watson. What was an issue was covering running backs. Arizona gave up 154 of the 355 yards Drew Brees passed for to running backs.
Head coach Bruce Arians said it was an issue of assignments on blitzes. "Defensively, we have to figure out who's got the back when we are blitzing and that's pretty obvious," he said. "We got too anxious to go after the quarterback today and not cover the back."
"No risk it, no biscuit;" Arians "offensive on offense"
If you ever listen to the Revenge of the Birds Radio show, you hear the show intro start with Arians saying, "no risk it, no biscuit." That's how he coaches offense. When the Cardinals were up by five with less than two minutes left and trying to run the clock out, on second down and eight, the Cardinals faked an end-around to John Brown and found rookie running back David Johnson on a pass down the sideline. He went 55 yards for a touchdown.
Arians downplayed the playcall. "It wasn't designed to score, he said," he said. "It was designed to get us the first down.
"We were anxious to call it because we felt we know what was going to happen. They had to be in their prevent, which for them is man-to-man, nine-man front, and it worked."
Quarterback Carson Palmer said he "Was screaming at him not to get out of bounds."
"It looked like he was headed out of bounds, then he kind of just hit that rocket booster button and exploded down the sidelines."
Palmer also noted how "you love being offensive on offense." No, he did not mean offensive, as in something that offends others, but rather playing to move the ball and not just to milk the clock.
What tight end problem?
The Cardinals entered the offseason with questions at the tight end position. Then it looked strong. Then, it looked not very durable. But Darren Fells had himself a game. He caught four passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, the most yards a Cardinals tight end has gained since Rob Awalt had more than 100 in 1989. He also had a highlight film play -- a 48-yard catch and run in which he stiff-armed one player and then, in the words of Carson Palmer, "man-child(ed) a couple of guys down the field."
The run defense is back
Arizona held the Saints to 54 yards on 20 carries -- only 2.7 yards per carry. That is the defense fans have been accustomed to.
Arizona gave up field goals, not touchdowns
Each of the last nine seasons, the Saints have been in the top six in yardage in the league. They led the league in yards last season and four other seasons in the same time period. They also have been in the top 10 in scoring seven of the last nine seasons. Arizona gave up only one touchdown and 19 points. Yes, New Orleans 408 yards, but Arizona outgained them. Against an elite quarterback, you have to limit them to field goals. That is exactly what they did.
Running game is real after one game
After ranking 31st in the league in rushing and dead last in yards per carry a season ago, Arizona rushed for 120 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. That was the offseason focus and, even without Mike Iupati, they were still effective.
Pick your poison in the passing game
Carson Palmer threw for more than 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That has only happened four other times in franchise history -- all four were Kurt Warner.
Palmer completed passes to eight different players and targeted 10.
"I don't care if anybody catches 10 passes as long as nine or 12 players catch passes and nobody drops them."
David Johnson is #good
He got the ball twice. Once was a kick return for 43 yards. The other time was a 55-yard touchdown catch. He showed the speed and excitement in the passing game the team hoped he would have. If Andre Ellington is out for any length of time, you get the feeling the offense will be okay.