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John DeShazier: Saints top performers vs. Cardinals

Drew Brees delivered another amazing outing

OFFENSE: Well, this was an easy one. When I mentioned in the Key Ingredients that the New Orleans Saints needed some vintage Drew Brees, I didn't know the future Hall of Famer would post a Hall of Fame-level day against a defense that, entering Sunday, was allowing 202 passing yards per game. And yet, that's exactly what Brees did against the Cardinals, strafing them for 389 passing yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, while completing 37 of 48 passes. Brees was coming off back-to-back games, against Detroit and Tampa Bay, in which he'd thrown a combined six interceptions and no touchdowns. It was only the second time in his career that he'd had such a two-game stretch. Well, when he said he understood the corrections that needed to be made, he wasn't kidding. He and Brandin Cooks(seven catches for 186 yards and touchdowns of 65 and 45 yards) loosened up Arizona's secondary, and helped keep the Cardinals off balance along with a running game that produced 130 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries (including two kneeldowns to end the game). After consecutive games in which they scored a combined 24 points, the Saints erupted for twice that many against a defense that was allowing 21 points per game. The Saints offense goes as Brees goes and on Sunday, he had it going at an elite level.

DEFENSE: This usually is reserved for one player, but today, it'll be divvied up among four (my stickers, my rules). Defensive end Paul Krugerstripped Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgeraldin the first quarter, and linebacker Craig Robertsonrecovered. Later, in the fourth quarter, safety Vonn Bellknocked the ball loose from receiver Brittan Golden, and cornerback Ken Crawleyrecovered. Each time, the Saints recovered in Arizona territory and each time, they cashed in the turnovers for touchdowns. And on a day in which every touchdown was needed, those turned out to be huge plays. Was the total game a bit of a step back for a defense that, over the last eight games, had allowed 21 points per game and had held three of the last four opponents to 269 yards or less? Yes. Arizona scored 34 points on offense, and had 425 yards. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allenwon't like those numbers. But he'll very much appreciate the two turnovers that were forced, because they were the first that the Saints have forced in three games and because they led to touchdown drives. They were opportunistic plays, hustle plays made by a defense that was scrappy if not totally effective.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Being successful on 37- and 39-yard field-goal attempts may not sound like much but for rookie kicker Wil Lutzand the Saints' kicking unit, they're music to the ears. That's three consecutive games in which the Saints have been clean on special teams, and Lutz's two field goals will continue to instill confidence in the unit. Thomas Morsteadonly punted once, the return game produced 40 yards on two kickoff returns by Tommylee Lewis, and the cover teams were solid. But Lutz takes the prize because the more success he has, the more comfortable he becomes and the more confidence his teammates gain as they smoothly complete the snap-hold-kick process that was so problematic in previous games.

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