- WHERE: State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)
- IF: 8:15 p.m. ET | Prime Video, NFL+
A season ago, the Saints and Cardinals combined had 20 wins. Over six weeks this season, both teams hobble into Thursday night’s game at State Farm Stadium with tied 2-4 records.
And what’s most disappointing is that both teams’ bread-and-butter units have fallen short so far.
The Cardinals offense, which ranked in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago, is midfield or worse in those numbers in six games.
On the other hand, the Saints’ defense – which played like a top-five unit late last season – was just as disappointing, particularly in the revenue-generating department.
It also doesn’t help that the two teams’ head coaches, Kliff Kingsbury and Dennis Allen, specialize in coaching those respective units.
We don’t yet know if Jameis Winston will start at QB for New Orleans. But we do know that Arizona officially activated DeAndre Hopkins on Monday from his six-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Since the end of Week 3, he’s been using the team’s facilities and preparing for his return in this game.
For those worried about a third dud on Thursday night, there’s always this fallback: Both teams have had some wild back-and-forth games this season. And both teams need this game badly if they want to get back on track after poor starts to the season.
Here are four things to watch out for when the Saints visit the Cardinals Thursday night on Prime Video:
- Welcome back D Hop. Hopkins’ six-game suspension is over, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Cardinals’ offense faltered in the Week 6 loss to the Seahawks, with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown suffering a serious foot injury late in the game. Arizona was traded to ex-Panthers WR Robbie Anderson this week, but the return of Hopkins is a far greater source of hope. Kyler Murray has played 20 games since the start of the 2021 season — 10 with Hopkins and 10 without. With Hopkins in the lineup, Murray had a far higher completion rate (71.6% to 64.9%), averaged more passyards per game (278.2 to 246.8), and passed more TD passes (19 to 11). It’s been a tough season for Murray, who’s under pressure like never before, and for Kliff Kingsbury, whose play call was ripe for the question. Expecting Hopkins to be the magic elixir of offense is a dangerous failsafe, but it could be their best hope right now. Helpful for Arizona is the belief that Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore may not be healthy enough to play in this game.
- Who will the Saints turn to for quarterback? When the schedule was announced last spring, it looked like a battle between two former No. 1 draft picks at quarterback. But with Winston’s dismal injury status, that possibility is in the air. Saints head coach Dennis Allen was a bit coy when asked about Winston’s availability for that game and said he wanted to Get Winston near 100% before he returns. Due to the short week, it could be Andy Dalton for a fourth straight start (with a dash of Taysom Hill); Neither quarterback has an injury designation as of Thursday night. Dalton struggled last week, although missing his top three receivers in the game had something to do with it. He also suffered a back injury in the loss to the Bengals. But the Saints seem to have a running game to lean on. They rushed for 228 yards against the Bengals averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and jack-of-all-trades Hill are getting the ground game going, but rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed also chipped in on his first offensive touch of his career with a 44-yard TD run last week. Arizona ranks seventh compared to run but 20th compared to pass and 24th in sack rate.
- The Saints expected to receive a great recipient in return. It was clear how limited Dalton and the Saints’ passing game was last week, especially late in the game when they failed to get things going offensively. Michael Thomas has now missed the last three games and Jarvis Landry has been out twice in a row. Neither will play on Thursday. But rookie Chris Olave, who missed Week 6, has said he will be back for this one after suffering a concussion the week before the game against Seattle. Olave was a little busier with Winston in the QB (17 catches for 268 yards in three games) than Dalton (eight catches for 121 yards), but both of Olave’s TD catches came from Dalton in a game that Thomas also missed. This could be a big stage for the rookie wideout in a game where the Cardinals are trying to get the Saints to punch them through the air no matter who is in QB. New Orleans is also without tight end Adam Trautman and guard Andrus Peat.
- The pressure on Kliff Kingsbury is increasing. When the most important relationship on a football team is between the quarterback and their head coach, it’s hard not to feel that the Kingsbury and Murray Cardinals’ marriage needed a little counseling. The hot and cold offensive performance (two games with no offensive TDs) and awkward game prompting and execution have been striking this season, and neither seems to have many answers. Still, both (along with GM Steve Keim) signed long-term contract extensions this offseason. Still, we know who is more vulnerable to big changes: the coach. If the offensive disconnect wasn’t clear when dealing with the final drive of the Eagles loss, it became apparent during the Seattle loss. Kingsbury’s game planning and game decision making are clearly concerns. And in his first three seasons at the helm, this is the part of the season where his teams start to tank and go 12-19 from Week 7. After a 2-4 start, Kingsbury can’t afford similar results this year if he wants to secure his Arizona job for 2023.