KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Chris Rose, Kurt Warner
PREDICTION: Saints 38-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cardinals rookie QB Max Hall makes his first career start. He's undersized at 6-feet-1 and lacks experience, but coach Ken Whisenhunt simply wants him to hit high percentage passes and not turn the ball over. The real onus lies with RBs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, who are combining to average 5.4 yards per carry but will be marginalized if the Cardinals fall behind early. The Saints' offense hasn't been prolific through the first quarter of the season. Arizona could fix that, as the run defense is ranked 23rd and the pass defense 30th. The lack of a potent pass rush should give QB Drew Brees plenty of time in the pocket.
FAST FACTS: Brees is 3-0 in his career against Arizona. ... The Cardinals have won eight consecutive games immediately following a loss.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Saints could be viewing Sunday's game against the Cardinals in University of Phoenix Stadium as an opportunity to bust out of a season-long offensive funk.
While some teams might be used to scoring 79 points in four games and averaging just 344.0 total yards a game, the numbers are well below the standards the Saints have set in four-plus seasons under Sean Payton.
They're certainly hoping the Arizona defense is the cure-all for what ails them. The Cardinals rank 29th in total defense at 388.0 yards a game and are 31st in scoring defense in giving up 29.5 points per contest.
Despite their 3-1 start, the Saints have sputtered mightily on offense. They've scored just 55 points in their three victories, but quarterback Drew Brees said his team probably played its best game in a 16-14 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
That could mean that they're on the verge of breaking out.
"I think we've put our B, B-minus performance out there, unfortunately, for the most part the last four weeks," Brees said Wednesday. "And yet, we are still sitting in a very good position at 3-1.
"So what happens if we start putting forth our A-plus performance? Well, I think that's obviously what we're striving for."
Brees is hopeful that it's just a matter of time.
"We're a prideful bunch," he said. "We're not satisfied with the way we're playing, the fact that we're not putting up more than 20 points a game. I mean, come on. This offense prides itself on big plays."
The Cardinals have changed quarterbacks, benching Derek Anderson for Max Hall. They can make a myriad of other changes, too, but it's not going to matter if they continue playing lousy defense.
In their two losses, the defense has yielded 75 points and 863 yards. In fact, the Cardinals haven't slowed down a good offense this year. Their two victories came against the Rams and the Raiders.
The problems are vast. Too many players are getting beat one-on-one. Too many have been caught lining up incorrectly, and too many have made assignment errors.
Unless all of those things change, it won't matter who starts under center for the Cardinals.
The biggest problem is that that the biggest names on the defensive side of the ball are not playing well.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson was a liability in coverage last week. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has made no game-changing plays. Defensive end Darnell Dockett did not have a tackle last week, and outside linebacker Joey Porter has only one sack.
"Some of our best players haven't played as well as they need to play," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "and we've made that point. It's our job as a group of men, a team, is to get it straightened out. We're not hitting the panic button. We're 2-2. We've got good players; we're just not playing as well as we need to play."
--RB Pierre Thomas was held out of practice again Thursday because of a sprained left ankle, and his status for Sunday's game against the Cardinals was unknown.
--RCB Tracy Porter will be sidelined for Sunday's game after having arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his left knee earlier this week. He likely will miss two to three more games.
--RDE Will Smith did not practice again Thursday due to a groin injury, and his status for Sunday's game was not known.
--RB Reggie Bush remains out with a fractured right fibula and will miss his third straight game this week.
--SS Roman Harper, who has a right hamstring injury, was limited again in Thursday's practice and his availability for Sunday's game was not known.
--SS Pierson Prioleau bruised a lung in the last game and was limited in practice again Thursday. His availability for Sunday's game is not known.
--TE Jeremy Shockey was limited with a knee injury in Thursday's practice and his status for the Cardinals was not known.
--QB Derek Anderson, who has completed just 52 percent of his passes this season, has been benched.
--QB Max Hall, an undrafted rookie, will get his first NFL start Sunday against the Saints. The Cardinals will pare their playbook a bit, giving Hall some ways to counter the Saints' blitz.
--RB Tim Hightower remains the starter, but it won't matter much if the games continue to get out of hand. The Cardinals were down 21 points at halftime last week and weren't able to stick with the run.
--RB Beanie Wells is frustrated he had only five carries last week in San Diego. Wells gained 19 yards and wants the ball more often.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling is a dynamic kick returner who also plays on third downs.
--WR Steve Breaston is out for at least one more game after undergoing knee surgery last week. The hope is that Breaston will return Oct. 24, after the bye.
--WR Stephen Williams has looked like an undrafted rookie at times. He dropped a pass last week to help kill a drive.
--PK Jay Feely, who has a strong leg, made a 53-yard kick last week against the Chargers.
--TE Ben Patrick could be an important target for rookie QB Max Hall this week. The Cardinals don't use their tight ends much, but they have to pick up the pace given the youth of the quarterback.
Game Preview: Cardinals vs. Saints
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