Grab a drink and get hyped: It's Saints game day, and here's three things to watch


The best part about the 2015 season — at least here in the hours before kickoff — is our relatively low expectations. Why? Because it's always more fun to exceed expectations than to fail to meet them, the way the Saints did last year. Disappointment makes being mediocre even worse than it would otherwise be.

Even our little grocery stores aren't thinking big:

But that's okay. With low expectations come the chance for intensified fun.

Today, against Arizona, the Saints' case could be helped by three things in particular.

The Second-Team Secondary
It'd be wrong for me to say the Saints' secondary is currently composed of nothing but backups — but not that wrong. Cornerback Keenan Lewis is out with a hip injury until next month, at least, and though the latest reports on long-lost safety Jairus Byrd seem optimistic, he too is out.

The Arizona Cardinals aren't noted for their overwhelming passing attack, so you'd think that would bode well for the Saints' chances. Except, in the past, poor secondary play has allowed teams with lesser quarterbacks to keep up with Drew Brees and, often, beat him. That happened last year against the likes of the Cleveland Browns. The Saints can't let it happen again.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is an old pro, but he's an old pro whose career has been wracked by severe injuries. He's coming off a torn ACL — the second time he suffered that particular injury — and is more solid than spectacular even when he's healthy. The Saints can't make life easy for him. McDonogh 35's Delvin Breaux, the new Saints cornerback fresh out of the Canadian Football League, must play well. At safety, Rafael Bush must be his usual dependable self.

Most important of all, the Saints need a good day from safety Kenny Vaccaro, who struggled throughout 2014. A nice game from Vaccaro would be a hugely positive sign for the 2015 season. It'd certainly be a change from anything the Saints got from number 32 last year.

Max Unger
The Cardinals' strength is their defense. Led by defensive lineman Calais Campbell, Arizona's front seven has the potential to harass Drew Brees, and any pressure the Cardinals can put on him will only give former LSU star defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu more chances to make the sorts of big plays we don't want to see.

Center Max Unger, the interior lineman the Saints acquired when they traded Jimmy Graham to Seattle, is the answer. No, Unger won't line up directly across from Campbell, who is a defensive end. But a great performance from Unger would enhance the Saints' entire offensive front, making life easier for the guards on either side of him and subsequently for tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. 

It's a domino effect: Unger could be the piece that has been missing from the Saints' offense the last couple years, the one that takes it from very good back to great.

Running Backs as Receivers
The conventional wisdom of the off-season says the Saints will run the ball more in 2015 than they have in the past under Sean Payton. Maybe so. Expect them to run, for sure, and to run fairly often if they run well. But don't expect them to suddenly morph into ground-and-pound Seattle. 

Rather, expect Sean Payton to integrate his running backs into his entire offensive attack. Receiving back CJ Spiller, a prized free agent signee from Buffalo, won't play today, but the Saints showed great ability to use both Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson as pass receivers during the preseason, and that probably was a sign of things to come.

Watch for Ingram to sneak out of the backfield down the sideline on a wheel route. Watch for Robinson to get a shot at the Pierre Screen.

Don't be surprised if rookie kick returner Marcus Murphy also lines up in the backfield once or twice. If Payton and Brees have proven anything over the years, it's that they can get just about anyone involved in the offense. If they manage to do that today, the Saints should be in pretty good shape.

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