After back-to-back road games, the New Orleans Saints return home looking to extend their winning streak to six in a row when they host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
This will be the Saints' (6-1) last game before their bye and they no doubt would love to go into the off week on a high note. New Orleans dominated Chicago on the stat sheet last week, especially when it came to the Saints' defense, but some atypical breakdowns and sloppy special teams play gave the Bears a chance to score a couple of touchdowns late to make the final score 36-25.
The Cardinals (3-3-1) also are coming off of a road victory, beating the Giants 27-21 behind a monster (126 rushing yards, 3 TDs) performance from backup running back Chase Edmonds. After a 0-3-1 start, rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury's team has rattled off three straight wins, two of those coming on the road.
The series between the Cardinals and the Saints is tied, 15-15. For games played in New Orleans, the Saints hold an 8-4 advantage. The Cardinals have not won in New Orleans since 1996. These teams have split the four most recent meetings.
Arizona at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. What does Chase Edmonds have in mind for an encore?
Last week in New York, Edmonds turned in the most productive day of his professional career by far. He carried the ball 27 times; his previous career-high in 22 NFL games was eight attempts. He ran for 126 yards, nearly doubling his previous career-best total. He also scored three touchdowns, equaling his career output.
Edmonds got all of that work because starter David Johnson has been hampered by an ankle injury. After being questionable entering last week's game, Johnson ended up with just three carries, giving way to Edmonds. Johnson did not practice Wednesday or Thursday so it remains to be seen how involved, if at all, he will be in the game plan on Sunday. At least, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has a pretty good Plan B to turn to in Edmonds.
But it may not matter who gets the carries considering New Orleans' sustained success in stopping the run. Since Week 11 of the 2017 season, no player has gone over 100 yards on the ground against the Saints. In that span of 33 games, only six have even exceeded 70 rushing yards. In 2017, Devonta Freeman, Peyton Barber, and Todd Gurley accomplished that feat. Last season, only Ezekiel Elliott broke 70. So far this season, Carlos Hyde (83) and Leonard Fournette (72) have had the most success. New Orleans is ninth in the NFL in rushing defense at 90.6 rushing yards per game allowed.
2. Will the Saints iron out their special teams problems?
The Saints committed multiple glaring miscues in the kicking game against the Bears last week. After scoring their first touchdown, they allowed Cordarrelle Patterson to return the ensuing kickoff 102 yards. Wil Lutz missed two field goals on four attempts after misfiring just once (13-of-14) prior. The Saints also failed to jump on an onside kick late in the game, and they nearly allowed the Bears to recover a second such attempt.
Not everything that the special teams did at Soldier Field detracted from the victory. After the Bears went three-and-out to open the game, the Saints blocked a punt, resulting in a safety. PunterThomas Morstead continued his field-flipping ways, pinning the Bears inside their 25-yard line on all four of his punts.
Can the Cardinals' unremarkable yet adequate special teams tip the balance in Arizona's favor? Kicker Zane Gonzalez has connected on 18-of-21 field goals and is 3-of-5 from 40 yards and out. Andy Lee has averaged 47.8 yards per punt (with one blocked last week in New York). Andy Isabella has five punt returns for an average of 21 yards per return. The Cardinals have yet to score a special teams touchdown but Sunday would be a great time to get one or at least come up with a big play to help spark the offense.
3. Can the Cardinals win the turnover battle?
Arizona has masterfully protected the ball so far. The Cardinals have thrown four interceptions, tied for ninth fewest in the NFL. They have yet to lose a fumble; they're the sole team with that distinction. In total, they have the fewest giveaways in the league.
Arizona has experienced much less success in taking away the ball. The Cardinals have recovered five fumbles, tied for 12th in the league. They have picked off just one pass, tied for fewest in the NFL.
As much as the Cards need to take away the ball to have a chance to upset the Saints, doing so will not be easy. New Orleans has turned the ball over only five times. The Saints' turnover margin is plus-four, which ties them for fifth.
Arizona's season appeared to be a lost cause after the first quarter of the schedule. The Cardinals have rebounded with three straight wins and now have a chance to go above .500 at the halfway point. That would be quite the confidence builder for a team with a rookie head coach (Kliff Kingsbury) and quarterback (No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray).
Whether Drew Brees makes his return from the thumb injury and how much he plays (if at all), makes no difference for this game. New Orleans' defense has more than done its job in his absence, as the Saints currently rank in the top 10 in the NFL in both points and rushing yards allowed per game. Whether it's Brees or Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, they just need to keep protecting the ball and feeding it to wide receiver Michael Thomas. Another rash of special teams breakdowns appears to be the only thing that would allow Arizona to stay in this game.
Prediction: Saints 30, Cardinals 13
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.