(Photo credit: azcentral sports)
The Arizona Cardinals kicked off their much-anticipated 2015 campaign with a 31-19 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon from the University of Phoenix Stadium. Here are five things we learned:
1. Smoke n Fitz: The game started with “Smoke” as Carson Palmer targeted his now second-year wide receiver John Brown early and often. Three of his five first half targets came on the opening drive of the game. The third, a touchdown on a play where Palmer was flushed from the pocket and Brown did a nice job getting to an open area in the corner of the end zone. He finished with four catches for 46 yards and that score. When the Saints turned their attention to Brown, it caused “Fitz.” Larry Fitzgerald had a nice season opener with six catches on eight targets for 87 yards, most coming in the second half. There has been a lot said about the chemistry Palmer has with these two and it showed in the season opener.
2. Missed Tackles: We knew coming in the Saints had talented players on offense with Drew Brees under center and receivers like Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks on the outside. But what was perplexing was the amount of missed tackles. There were multiple plays throughout the game where it took two, three or more attempts to bring down a player. In the first half, Brandon Coleman’s touchdown came after two Cards were not able to wrap him up or force him out before reaching the pylon. This scheme is still as aggressive as ever despite no Todd Bowles running the defense, but the aggressive attack will not succeed with missed tackles. After the game, Bruce Arians made note of the fact the team did a poor job of identifying the running backs, especially on blitzes. It will be an area to improve before facing Matt Forte and the Bears next week.
3. Cards on the Run: The Cardinals ran the ball 25 times in the game and made it count which was encouraging with guard Mike Iupoti still sidelined with injury and Bobby Massie serving his suspension. The attack was led by Andre Ellington who was very explosive both along the edge and between the tackles averaging about 5.8 yards per carry totaling 69 yards on 12 carries. Chris Johnson also made his first regular season appearance with the Cardinals. Ellington and Johnson had multiple runs of 10 or more yards. To put a cherry on top, Cardinals rookie David Johnson made the play to seal the game with a 55-yard touchdown reception. General manager Steve Keim said he loved his ability to catch the ball out of the back field when they drafted him and he showed it scoring his first career touchdown on a reception.
The bad news though, Ellington collapsed with a non-contact injury in the third quarter. The play did not look good but Ellington was able walk off under his own power. Arians mentioned after the game that it could be a PCL injury but Ellington said to him that he believes he is fine. Palmer said from his angle, it looked a lot worse when it happened than the injury may be.
4. Fells Bells: There had not been much good news around the Cards’ tight end position since fall camp began. Troy Niklas has been unable to stay healthy. Jermaine Gresham wasn’t healthy until the last week of camp and was a game-time decision in week one. One of the better stories of camp, Ifeanyi Momah went down with a season-ending knee injury just before week one. The one that was talked about too little during camp was Darren Fells. That notion is no more as Fells had a big first game of 2015 with four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. He was a reliable target for Palmer who made a play four out of the five times he was targeted. Arians noted his ability to improve his blocking is what has taken his game to another level. He’s known Fells can catch the ball and be another weapon in the passing game. Palmer after the game was quick to make note of a big block or two that Fells made in addition to the big pass plays.
5. Red Zone Rally: Arizona gave up more big and explosive plays than we have been accustomed to the last few seasons. Especially on screens or plays in the flats which made it that much more head scratching. One thing you have to be impressed with, which was ultimately the difference in the game, is when New Orleans got into the red zone or within striking distance in Cards territory, they weren’t able to turn it into six points. Just once in four trips were the Saints able to find the end zone. It was a nice afternoon for Zach Hocker fantasy owners as he blasted through four field goals but the Saints ultimately needed more on their visits into Cards’ territory on offense.
The Cardinals hit the road for week two as they take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier field.