No blitz required: A play-by-play breakdown confirmed how impressive the Saints’ four-man rush was against the Cardinals. By my unofficial count, the Saints only blitzed eight times on Sunday. Yet they still managed to harass quarterback Carson Palmer throughout the game.
Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan had the best performances on the edges. Galette repeatedly got past left tackle Levi Brown, forcing at least five big plays. He had a sack in the first quarter, flushed Palmer out of the pocket for Jordan’s sack in the second quarter, forced two throw-aways and blew up the pocket on a pass to Patrick Peterson that gained minus-two yards.
Jordan, meanwhile, had two sacks (one of which could have been shared by defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker). He flushed Palmer out of the pocket to aid defensive end Glenn Foster's sack in the third quarter. And Jordan and Walker collapsed the pocket to help force Palmer’s second interception late in the fourth quarter.
Outside linebacker Martez Wilson also joined in on the fun in the fourth quarter, beating a tight end to force Palmer into an incomplete pass.
Blanket coverage: The Saints’ secondary deserves just as much credit, though, for limiting Palmer’s options down the field. Not only did safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Keenan Lewis snag interceptions on deep passes in the fourth quarter, but Lewis and cornerback Jabari Greer had blanket coverage every time Palmer attempted a “shot” play. That’s been the case all season long against some dangerous receivers. … And Lewis actually could have had two interceptions, but he was unable to hang on to an air-mailed pass in the second quarter.
Even when Palmer completed passes down the field to his receivers, they were immediately wrapped up almost every time. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald did break a 26-yard gain in the fourth quarter, though, when he got behind linebacker Curtis Lofton in zone coverage. And Greer was lucky that receiver Andre Roberts dropped the ball when he was open on a short fade pass in the end zone on the Cardinals’ opening drive.
Vaccaro’s hit: Although sacks and turnovers are more sexy, I think the defensive play of the game was Vaccaro’s hit on running back Stepfan Taylor to force a punt in the first quarter when the game was still tied 7-7. Palmer hit Taylor with a 2-yard pass on third-and-3, but Vaccaro stood Taylor up, wrapped him up and pulled him down short of the first down.
Snuffed out: A good example of the deception that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes to create came when the Saints snuffed out an attempted screen pass in the second quarter. Lofton faked like he was going to blitz on third-and-7, then he dropped into coverage, preventing Palmer from dumping the ball off to running back Andre Ellington. That allowed Jordan and Walker to both hit Palmer as he barely threw the ball away.
Special effort: The Saints also had a good day on special teams. Darren Sproles broke off punt returns of 28 and 21 yards. The dynamic Sproles deserves credit for making guys miss on both of them -- but running back Travaris Cadet also delivered key blocks on both returns. Cadet also had a big-time hit in kickoff coverage in the fourth quarter.
The Saints did, however, allow a 46-yard kickoff return by Javier Arenas in the second quarter. Both Corey White and Khiry Robinson whiffed on diving tackle attempts -- though both had tough angles because the Cardinals’ blocking was so good on the play.