A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Saints game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Attack the back
The Saints have issues in their secondary. Safety Jarius Byrd is still down. Their best cornerback, Keenan Lewis, is hurt. And right now, the pass rush isn't great. Even with the Cardinals having to shift around their own offensive line – more on that in a minute – and with the probability that Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will blitz a lot, there should be areas down the field Carson Palmer can get the ball. With deep threats John Brown and J.J. Nelson available, there's really no question that Bruce Arians will be able to take the shots he likes.
Wats up front
About that offensive line … Earl Watford gets his first start at right tackle. Lyle Sendlein is back at center as if his offseason of being cut and later being brought back as a backup never happened. Jonathan Cooper is finally in place for what will be his first full healthy season. There are questions, and until guard Mike Iupati returns from knee surgery those questions could stick around. But the Cardinals believe they have enough on the offensive line to make it work. Facing the Saints – and a defensive line that has a lot of inexperience – isn't a bad way to get into the season.
Don't get Cooked
The Cardinals are the reason the Saints have playmaking wide receiver Brandin Cooks. It was the Cards' 20th pick in the 2014 draft that the Saints traded up for to get Cooks. (The Cards did well on the deal, moving to 27 to get the safety they wanted in Deone Bucannon and turning the extra third-round pick they got in the deal for wide receiver John Brown.) Now, the Cards must deal with Cooks. I'd guess Patrick Peterson, slimmed-down and everything, would be the pick to hang with Cooks. But when you figure the Cards will stay true to their blitzing ways, that's a lot of one-on-one coverage in which Peterson must hold up.
Getting to Brees
Speaking of the blitz – getting to Saints quarterback Drew Brees has never been easy, although Darnell Dockett did sack him three times against a rookie guard back in 2013. Brees also had 342 yards passing and three touchdowns in the Saints' 31-7 win over the Cards two seasons ago. His weapons have changed. No Jimmy Graham. No Pierre Thomas. An older Marques Colston. New running back C.J. Spiller is hurt. Cooks is dynamic, but the Cards have confidence they can harass Brees enough to make a difference.
Protect the nest – again
The Cardinals have won eight of their nine home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium, the only blemish a 20-16 loss to the 49ers, interestingly enough, the last time the Cards came into a season with big expectations – that was 2009, a few months after a Super Bowl appearance. The Cards won 10 of their next 14 games. A good start can't be overstated. The stats are real – since 1978, a team is more than twice as likely to make the playoffs starting 1-0 rather than 0-1.
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