It won't be this way every week, but yesterday in Arizona the Saints were up against a team that looked bigger, faster, and more experienced, and they suffered the consequences.
Most notable was the Saints' inability, beyond their single touchdown drive, to sustain any production on offense. The Saints had a nice-looking 408 total yards on the day, but 152 of those yards came on just three of their 70 snaps. Without their three biggest plays, the Saints averaged just 3.8 yards per snap, which compares unfavorably with the 3.4 yards per play they managed back in 2013, up in Seattle during the regular season, when the Seahawks' defense utterly destroyed Sean Payton's offense.
Drew Brees managed 355 yards and a decent 7.4 yards per pass attempt, but that latter number falls to a mediocre 6 yards pas attempt without receiver Willie Snead's 69 yard catch and run, and falls even further without Mark Ingram's big screen pass. By contrast, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had 55 of his 307 yards on one touchdown pass, but still averaged more than 8 yards per attempt without that play. The Cardinals moved the ball without big plays; the Saints didn't.
It should surprise no one, then, that the Saints had so-called red zone problems. They generally couldn't move the ball before
the one big play that got them there, so why should they be expected to move it afterwards?
On defense, the Saints were almost as overmatched. While young linebackers Hau'oli Kikaha and Stephone Anthony had their good moments, and young corners Delvin Breaux and Damian Swann also had theirs, the net effect was that the Cardinals' offense didn't so much look good
as look like life was easy. Arizona only achieved that final margin of 31-19 late, but the score was indicative of the way the game unfolded, and of the relative quality of the two teams involved.
Maybe, as Kikaha, Anthony, Breaux, and Swann gain experience, and are — knock on wood — rejoined soon by ever-injured safety Jairus Byrd and lately-injured corner Keenan Lewis, the defense will improve. And maybe if injured running back CJ Spiller returns, the Saints will have a weapon on offense who can threaten the better defenses they'll face.
In the meantime, the Saints will step down in quality of opposition into the NFC South for a couple weeks. They'll need to show that their effort can overcome their inexperience and various physical disadvantages until, maybe, the cavalry arrives.
In the name of hope, I'll leave you with one of the nice moments from the Saints' youthful defense: the Kikaha/Breaux forced fumble/fumble recovery combination that, for a brief while, seemed like it might turn the game in the Saints' favor.
Things didn't work out that way yesterday.
Maybe they will next week.