Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon belts Saints running back Mark Ingram during the Cards' 31-19 win Sunday.
First-year defensive coordinator James Bettcher had his welcome-to-play-calling moment in the first half of the Cardinals' 31-19 win over the Saints, when some confusion put him in a bad spot.
"I don't think he got the (correct) personnel and he just lost it a little bit," an amused Jerraud Powers said postgame. "(Defensive line) coach (Brentson) Buckner was like, 'Calm down. (Saints coach) Sean Payton's going to do this and that. Just relax.'
"Payton's one of the best offensive minds in the league," Powers added. "He's going to try you in certain situations. It's
like a veteran going against a rookie."
Bettcher was able to pull himself back from the brink, remaining steady in his match of wits with Payton, and his defense did a similar job of bending without ever breaking.
The Cardinals had stretches where they gave up chunk plays or made regrettable mistakes on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, but in the end, gave up only 19 points to a Drew Brees offense.
"You know you're dealing with an elite quarterback," said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had a team-high eight tackles and three pass deflections. "His mindset is to put points on the board for his team. I think we did a great job keeping those guys out of the end zone."
Brees threw for 355 yards and Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson combined for 13 catches and 149 yards, capitalizing on screen passes when the Cardinals brought pressure.
While New Orleans had 408 total yards, it only scored one touchdown in four trips to the red zone, settling for four Zach
Hocker field goals in all. Even the touchdown was somewhat of a gift, as New Orleans was given a new set of downs after the Cardinals were penalized for too many men on the field on a punt return.
"We were able to score touchdowns and they had to kick a couple field goals," coach Bruce Arians said, "and that's usually the difference in the ballgame."
While the Saints running backs dominated in the passing game, Arians said that's an easily correctable flaw by simply peeling off with them when they leave pass protection. The bigger issue may be the lack of quarterback pressure, but that seemed to increase as the game went on.
Linebacker Alex Okafor notched a pair of sacks, although they were helped by a secondary which forced Brees to hold onto the ball longer than he wanted. Arians pegged Okafor as a double-digit sack guy in training camp, and he made an early push to get there.
"When you can steal a couple each game, that's how you get to that," Okafor said. "They're going to come. You can't force it. You've just got to keep playing your game."
The Cardinals' secondary played well, as the Saints' top two receivers, Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston, were held in check and safety Rashad Johnson came away with an interception on a tipped pass. Cornerback Patrick Peterson blanketed Cooks for much of the contest, and the second-year speedster finished with only four catches for 49 yards on eight targets.
"I thought my performance was great," Peterson said. "I'm kind of upset I let him get that one catch (a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter). But it happens."
There were questions about how the transition would go from former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to Bettcher, a guy with no previous experience at the position. There were also concerns about how the Cardinals would deal with the losses of cornerback Antonio Cromartie and nose tackle Dan Williams.
Despite the changes, the Cardinals looked a lot like their 2014 version as they once again aim to be one of the NFL's best defenses.
"We're running the same things that we ran all throughout last year," Peterson said. "We have pretty much the same coordinator (just) different names."