PRESSURING PALMER: The Saints defense played outstanding against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last week’s 16-14 victory. And outside linebacker Junior Galette made arguably the biggest play of the game in the final minutes when he stopped tailback Doug Martin in the open field on third down. Yet after the game, Galette tweeted, “Will never play like that again I PROMISE.”
I asked Galette why this week, and he said it’s because he didn’t think he was effective enough as a pass-rusher against the Buccaneers -- and he believes the pass rush is his department.
“What I have to do as part of the team is get to the quarterback, and I feel like we lost that battle of pressure,” Galette said. “What they were doing to Drew [Brees], we weren’t affecting [Josh Freeman the same way]. Obviously Cam [Jordan] changed the game with that sack-fumble (in the third quarter). But I feel like we could have done that some more, and I could have done that some more. … I need to step it up as far as getting to the quarterback.”
That will especially be a top priority Sunday against the Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer. Arizona coach Bruce Arians likes to feature a vertical passing attack. And even if star receiver Larry Fitzgerald is limited by a hamstring injury, the Cardinals have a talented receiving corps. Arizona’s offensive line has been inconsistent, though -- something the Saints and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be determined to exploit.
CAUGHT OFF GUARD? Although Saints right guard Jahri Evans has been named a first-team All-Pro in each of the past four seasons, he’s still a bit taken for granted due to the nature of his position. But maybe he’ll be appreciated more than ever if he can’t play Sunday for the first time in his eight-year NFL career (a streak of 114 consecutive regular-season games, tied for third best in the NFL).
Evans is listed as questionable after missing practice all week with a hamstring injury. If he can’t play, his primary backup is unproven undrafted rookie Tim Lelito (though backup tackle Bryce Harris is also an option). Even if Evans does play, he’ll probably be limited.
That’s a problem because the Saints have already struggled to generate a consistent run game this year -- and because they rely more than most teams on their guards to create a pocket for Brees. The only good news is that the Saints have had all week to prepare for the possibility of losing Evans, and coach Sean Payton and Brees are shrewd enough to come up with an effective Plan B.
BALANCING ACT: Speaking of the Saints’ run game woes, they’ll have to decide how stubborn they want to be with trying to get the ground game off the ground this week. It’s been a huge emphasis for the Saints this offseason, and they want to be able to keep opposing defenses honest. But Arizona’s run defense has been pretty stout so far this year, led by ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. The Cardinals rank second in the NFL, allowing just 58.0 rushing yards per game (a marked improvement over last year).
So the Saints might prefer to test the middle of the Cardinals defense with all of their various dynamic weapons that create mismatches in the passing game. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham appears to be back in peak form after his 10-catch, 179-yard performance last week at Tampa Bay, and the Cardinals struggled against St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook in Week 1 (seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns). And as ESPN analyst Darren Woodson suggested earlier this week, Arizona “does not have a guy on the team that can cover [Saints dynamic runner/receiver] Darren Sproles.”
The Saints obviously have great options at the receiver position as well, though they may want to avoid throwing at Arizona Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson whenever possible.