TEMPE, Ariz. — During his yearlong suspension for the bounty scandal, Saints coach Sean Payton used yellow legal notepads to jot down notes while watching New Orleans games on TV.
What issues did he see with the Saints, who slipped from 13-3 in 2011 to 7-9 while he was away?
“You get a different perspective when you’re watching games on tape from afar or watching on television,” Payton said on a conference call Wednesday. “Aside from scheme, you see body language on TV copy a little differently than you might on the field.”
Payton also watched a once-effective running game backslide and a defense completely crumble. New Orleans’ defense finished with the worst statistical season in NFL history, allowing a record 7,042 yards. The Saints ranked 31st against the pass and in points allowed and dead last in total defense and run defense.
To remedy the problem, Payton fired coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and hired Rob Ryan, shifting to a 3-4 base defense from the traditional 4-3 scheme the Saints had run under Payton’s three previous coordinators since 2006.
“We’re doing a good job of pursuing the ball,” Payton said. “They’re playing with confidence, they’ve gotten some pressure on the quarterback (especially in Week 1), I think overall, though, we’ve had some key additions and then the right leadership from some of the returning players that have really gotten off to a good start.”
The Saints have played a pair of close games, but they are 2-0. So how much impact can a head coach have?
“There are just certain messages that I think only he can convey,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He has a way of being able to communicate it, tied in with a story or anecdote or personal experience or something like that where he can really relate it to everybody in the room.
“That’s a talent he has, an ability to motivate and inspire. That’s what we missed.”
PREPPING FOR GRAHAM
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had 10 catches for 179 yards and a TD in Week 2 vs. the Bucs. The Cardinals are likely to use a variety of ways to cover him, whether it’s linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Yeremiah Bell or zone coverage.
But the man they’d normally have covering him, and the man who normally would have covered Rams tight end Jared Cook in Week 1 when he had seven catches for 141 yards and two TDs, is suspended linebacker Daryl Washington, who is eligible to return after this two-game road trip to New Orleans and Tampa.
“Daryl gives you that matchup,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said. “With his speed, it really helps, but I can’t do anything about it, so I don’t even think about it. I only worry about the guys we’ve got.”
Of course, if the remaining Cardinals defensive players could generate a pass rush, that would help, too. They have one sack through two games.
Sunday’s game in Louisiana will serve as a homecoming of sorts for three Cardinals: cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Kevin Minter, who all played at LSU (in Baton Rouge). Mathieu is from New Orleans.
“I haven’t played there in a few years, so obviously I want to cherish that moment,” Peterson said.
Despite being kicked off the team a little over a year ago for violating school and team rules associated with failed drugs tests, Mathieu says he has nothing but positive feelings about the area. That said, when he was asked how many ticket requests he had received for Sunday’s game, Mathieu smiled and said none because he changed his phone number.
Brees was asked on a conference call how familiar he was with Mathieu at LSU.
“The Honey Badger? Are you kidding me?” Brees said. “That was all anybody wanted to talk about around here. He was as exciting a college player as there was, so I’m very familiar with him and his abilities.”
Arians said Minter has a hamstring issue that is worse than the team originally thought on Monday. He did not practice Wednesday and is likely to miss Sunday’s game.
There was no change in receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s. Arians held him out of practice due to a hamstring issue, and Fitzgerald could be limited the rest of the week.
The third player to miss Wednesday’s practice was running back Rashard Mendenhall, who was listed with a toe injury. Mendenhall rode the stationary bike during the open portion of practice.
TE Rob Housler (ankle) returned to practice on Wednesday and said he was ready to go full speed, but he was listed as limited on the team’s official injury report. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (bicep) was also limited.
Every Cardinals quarterback for the past three years understands how difficult it is playing in the shadow of Kurt Warner. Palmer is no different.
“You hear about it all the time,” he said. “I think that’s the case anywhere a great quarterback plays. Kurt was obviously a great quarterback. He played in Super Bowls, helped get this team to an NFC Championship game and win it. That’s just the kind of shoes you have to fill.
“I think it’s still looming here. Until someone else takes this team to a Super Bowl, you are always going to hear those comparisons.”