Five keys to victory for Cardinals at HOF Game

The Cardinals are just a few short days away from the first of five preseason games in 2012. They’ll take on the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night in Canton, Ohio.

This will be the first time in 26 years that Arizona will have taken part in the Hall of Fame Game.

In 1986, the-then St. Louis Cardinals fell to the New England Patriots 21-16.

The Saints last made the trip to Canton, Ohio, in 2007, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-7.

As far as Saints/Cardinals preseason match-ups go, the Saints lead the series 3-0, with their last victory, a 24-10 victory, coming on August 7, 2008, at University of Phoenix Stadium.

It’s definitely an honor for the Cardinals to take part in the Hall of Fame Game, and it would be great if they won the game, but at the end of the day, if they can get to Kansas City, Mo., and keep the bumps and bruises to a minimum, then that’s a victory in itself, considering there’s four more preseason games to play after Sunday’s game.

Here’s my five keys to victory for the Cardinals on Sunday night:

  1. Get consistent play out of the  quarterbacks.
  2. The horses up front need to keep the signal callers off the deck, and allow them time to operate.
  3. The defensive front seven need to play like madmen and stay in the Saints’ jerseys.
  4. The secondary needs to reel in the Saints receivers.
  5. Keep mistakes to a minimum.

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t said how many reps each player will get on Sunday, but depending on what he decides to do, each player has to give their max effort when they’re on the field, whether you’re a starter, or you’re on the third team.

Kevin Kolb will start at quarterback, that’s for certain, with John Skelton his relief.

Both players are aware of what they need to do to make the offense move and put points on the board. They’re not lacking for talent on that side of the ball, with guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and Michael Floyd to throw to.

The question mark on offense thus far is the running game.

Ryan Williams has looked good so far in camp, but Whisenhunt doesn’t want to give Williams carte blanche against the Saints and risk another injury.

Whisenhunt says he’ll see how Williams does the rest of the week at practice, and make a determination on his playing time against New Orleans.

With the run game not where it should be right now, it’s imperative for Kolb, Skelton and company to pick up that slack and get the aerial game going early and often.

It would give everyone a chance to see what the passing attack is capable of, plus it would give everyone a chance to see what Kolb and Skelton are made of early.

The offensive line is a bit thin, especially at the center position and guard positions. I’d like to see the new additions – Russ Hochstein and Rich Ohrnberger – and how they fit in the equation, at guard and center respectively.

I’m also intrigued to see how Bobby Massie does in his first live NFL action, as he’ll spell Jeremy Bridges when it’s his time.

You’d expect Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston and the rest of the Saints starters to play a few series and take the rest of the night off.

When the Saints 1’s on offense are up against the Cardinals 1’s on defense, it’s imperative that the defense shows exactly why they were one of the most feared defenses in the league last season.

The front seven -Campbell, Williams, Dockett, Acho, Lenon, Washington and Schofield – cant afford to let Brees sit behind his protection and pick and choose who he wants to get the ball to.

If they let him do that, then they’ll be down big in a matter of minutes (it wasn’t a fluke that Brees completed 71 percent of his throws and threw for almost 5,500 yards last season).

The defense needs to trust in each other and communicate, because Brees is the kind of quarterback that will easily confuse a defense if given the chance.

The secondary has been bolstered by the return of cornerback Greg Toler and free safety Kerry Rhodes, which makes that group immediately better than they were last year.

I want to see the youngsters – Jamell Fleming, Justin Bethel and Eddie Elder – and how they respond under the lights, when their number is called.

It’s one thing to run up on the same guys at practice every day, but when it’s “lights, camera, action,” now what do you do?

I expect them to perform well, because they have veteran leaders ahead of them, who are preparing them for this moment, the moment they’ve dreamed about their entire lives, playing in the NFL.

There can’t be any slip in gameplay from team to team. When the starters come out, the second and third teams need to keep whatever momentum they had going.

To go along with that, the Cardinals need to keep their mistakes to a minimum, if they expect to win.

Special teams are also going to be huge for the Cardinals as well.

The Saints special teams group is very strong. Punter Thomas Morstead has a cannon of a leg, kicker John Kasay hardly ever misses, and Darren Sproles can crack back a punt or a kickoff with ease.

The Cardinals special teams will have to  exceed their expectations on Sunday night.

If they can keep the Saints pinned back in their own territory, and if LaRod Stephens-Howling and Patrick Peterson can give the offense good field position on kickoffs and punts, then Arizona will be cooking with gas.