Cardinals rewind: The gory New Orleans aftermath

BY foxsports • September 23, 2013

Dan Williams lost his dad in a fatal car crash. Safety Rashad Johnson lost the top digit of his middle finger. The defense lost outside linebackers Sam Acho (broken leg) and Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc surgery) for the season, and the Cardinals lost a disheartening game. 
Yeah, it was a bad day in New Orleans. 
"Injuries happen," coach Bruce Arians told azcardinals.com. "No one plays with the same 22 guys all the time. You hate for them to happen at the same position, but that’s usually what happens. You just have to take the next guy, see what happens, bring a guy in if need be, and give them an opportunity.”
Let's get to the gory New Orleans aftermath.

After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Cardinals allowed the Saints to march right down the field and answer with their own TD. “When you start that fast and you score a touchdown, you don’t like it answered with a touchdown,” Arians said. The Cards didn't score another point the rest of the day while the defense finally wore down on a day where it was on the field for more than 35 minutes due to an inept offense. 

Larry Fitzgerald: Slim pickings on a day when the Cardinals managed just seven points. Fitzgerald was clearly affected by a hamstring injury, but he fought through it to catch five balls for 64 yards on an offense that only totaled 161 passing yards. 

Tyrann Mathieu: Mathieu snared his first career interception in his return home and finished second on the team in tackles with 10 (nine solo). Given Johnson's gruesome finger injury, Mathieu could become the starter at free safety for the Cardinals for a while.

Todd Bowles has work to do: Many wondered how Todd Bowles would fare in his first year replacing Ray Horton as defensive coordinator. The Cards finally got some pressure on Sunday (four sacks), but tackling continues to be an issue, and that contributed to the Saints' 423-yard day. It's early, but after three weeks, the Cards D ranks 19th in yards (370.3), 27th in sacks (five), 18th in interceptions (two), 18th in fumble recoveries (two) and 22nd in points per game (26.3).
So does the vaunted passing offense: After their opening drive, the Cards' next eight possessions ended with punts. But that was still better than the final two possessions, which ended in interceptions. Did we mention this came against a defense that registered the worst statistical performance in NFL history last season? After their opening TD drive, the Cards managed 61 passing yards the rest of the game.
Sean Payton matters: The Saints looked every bit the Super Bowl contender they were before coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season for the infamous bounty scandal. The defense is much better than last season's historical disaster, the running game is respectable again, and QB Drew Brees is playing with swagger. It's early, but the guess here is that New Orleans will be in the hunt all season.

Johnson lost the tip of his middle index finger while tackling Darren Sproles on a punt return. He took his glove off and the finger stayed in it.  Johnson had surgery in which doctors shaved the bone and repaired it. Amazingly, he could return as soon as this week. The news wasn't as good for Alexander and Acho, who were both placed on injured reserve at a position where the Cards were already struggling for production. Outside linebacker Dontay Moch was elevated from the practice squad. The Cardinals also have fourth-round draft pick Alex Okafor and veterans John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy, but they all are considered pass rushers first. The Cards have big problems here, even with inside backer Daryl Washington due to return after one more game.

-- Rob Housler played 41 snaps Sunday, but he caught just one ball. Maybe that high-ankle sprain is still bothering him, but we've heard so much about what a matchup problem Housler is for opposing defenses. It would be nice to actually see it some day.
-- The score dictated part of the Cardinals game plan, but after carrying three times for 27 yards and a TD on the opening drive, running back Alfonso Smith didn't touch the ball again. Andre Ellington got most of the work behind Rashard Mendenhall and might have climbed into the backup role. Overall, the Cards rushed 16 times for 86 yards.
-- Palmer completed 6 of 7 passes in the first quarter for 63 yards. In the next three, he was 12 of 28 for 124 yards and two interceptions. Kurt Warner hasn't been forgotten just yet.

Tampa Bay: Sunday at 10 a.m. The Bucs offense ranks 31st in yards per game (282) and is tied for last in points per game (14.7). That's good news for a Cardinals' defense playing without three starters -- and for a team that needs a win to keep from falling in a 1-3 hole.
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