The New Orleans Saints will take on the Arizona Cardinals at noon Sunday in the team's week three matchup in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Sunday's contest comes after last week's dramatic, fourth quarter come-from-behind 16-14 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley as time expired. The Saints, who are ranked ninth offensively and 11th defensively, will be looking to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2009, when they opened a franchise best 13-0 en route to the Super Bowl XLIV title.
Sunday's game will be the 27th time that the Saints and the Cardinals have met during the regular season and only the third time in the last eight years. The Saints met the Cardinals in the 2012 Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio to kick off the 2012 preseason. The Cardinals hold a 14-12 edge in the regular-season series.
After finishing 5-11 in 2012, optimism is high in the desert for the 1-1 Cardinals following the hire of Bruce Arians as coach. Arians served as interim coach for the Indianapolis Colts during the 2012 season and was named the 2012 Associated Press Coach of the Year after achieving a 9-3 record while filling in for first-year Coach Chuck Pagano who underwent treatment for leukemia from week 5-16. Prior to joining the Colts, Arians served as the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007 to 2011. He was the Saints' tight ends coach in 1996. !(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/Top-10-Photos-Saints-at-Buccaneers/04a7f686-d576-4e50-b204-bbaed91c37bd "New Orleans Saints")
The Cardinals also acquired quarterback Carson Palmer this offseason in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. In the 2012 season, Palmer completed 345 of 565 pass attempts for 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Palmer was traded after his second season in Oakland, spending the first eight years of his career as a Cincinnati Bengal. He has provided stability to the position, leading the Cardinals on a fourth quarter game-winning drive in Sunday's 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions. Palmer has completed 48-of-79 passes (60.8 percent) for 575 yards with three touchdowns.
The revamped Saints defense, which is currently ranked 11th in the NFL in opponent yards per game, will face a significant challenge in the duo of Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Despite currently battling a hamstring injury, Fitzgerald's 61 touchdown grabs since 2006 lead the NFL.
Since the last meeting between the squads in the 2010 regular season, Arizona's defense has also been overhauled and now features three defenders who played their college careers for LSU, two in the secondary. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has established himself as one of the best in the league while serving as a dangerous returner on special teams.
So far this season under Arians, Peterson has also seen snaps on the offensive side of the ball. The Arizona secondary also features former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, a New Orleans native who mans the safety position as a rookie. Mathieu began his NFL career by registering seven tackles and a forced fumble. Rookie linebacker Kevin Minter is the other former Tiger on the Cardinals' defense.
"It's going to be like old times, having Kevin and having Patrick there," Mathieu said during his first press conference as a Cardinal. "Just laughing and joking around. Just understanding that we're here to win and we're here to win championships. I think that is something that LSU taught me. I'm just going to try to take that approach, as far as that, into the Arizona Cardinals locker room."
Quarterback Drew Brees will continue to spread the ball around to his diverse group of skill-position players against the Arizona secondary. After the first two contests, Brees is in the midst of a streak dating back to last season of seven consecutive games with at least 300 yards passing. His prime target in the Tampa Bay win was tight end Jimmy Graham, who enjoyed one of the most prolific games for a tight end in NFL history, as he made 10 catches for 179 yards with a 56-yard touchdown. The yardage total was tied for ninth all-time for a tight end in league record books and is tied for fourth overall in Saints annals.
New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has established himself as a dominant force on the defensive front, hails from the Phoenix area and will be competing against the Cardinals in the regular season for the first time. After leading the Saints with eight sacks in 2012, the third-year end has proven to be an outstanding fit in the club's 3-4 alignment. His sack of quarterback Josh Freeman on Sunday in the second half led to a fumble that was recovered by outside linebacker Junior Galette, helping set up a field goal.
"The sky is the limit for Cameron," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "In addition to his talent, his work ethic in no matter what we do, even in warmups, is unbelievable."
Next week, the Saints will take on the Miami Dolphins in their first Monday night game of the 2013 season on Sept. 30 at 7:40 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.