Playing in the 50th annual NFL Hall of Fame game, the Cardinals and Saints opened the preseason.
The Saints starters opened the game and went right down the field to score on a 10-play, 77 yard drive as NFL football returned for its 2012 season. It was the first touchdown of the preseason and led to a 17-10 Saints win in Canton, Ohio, site of yesterday's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
The Saints showed off their two-deep talent at quarterback, with Drew Brees and Chase Daniel playing well and generating points. The Cardinals showed just how shallow their quarterback pool was.
Starting QB Kevin Kolb looked terrible before he was caught running for his life - a pattern - in the end zone and was buried by Saints DT Sedrick Ellis just nine minutes into the first quarter. It was Kolb's fourth pass and he managed his first completion on that play. His first pass was picked off easily and gracefully by FS Malcolm Jenkins, and he mercifully left the game, giving way to John Skelton, Ryan Kindley and Richard Bartel, who all fared better.
On the opening possession, Brees showed some rust but was for the most part comfortable and accurate. His first snap was an aborted quick hit to his right. Stuck with the ball, he looked to his left and with a defender at his knees dumped it off to RB Pierre Thomas, who scrambled for a one-yard gain. The next play was also a pass to Thomas, but this time the shifty runner was open with blockers in front on a screen pass that went for 20 yards.
Brees hit electric RB Darren Sproles for a quick 8-yard gain, then Thomas and Sproles ripped off runs off the left side for 12 and 11 yards to the Cardinal 25 yard line. Rolling right, Brees fired his only incomplete pass wide of Devery Henderson on a shallow out pattern. Ont he next snap Brees hit WR Joe Morgan on a similar but deeper route for 12 yards, and the leggy second year receiver showed good fight to pick up extra yards after the catch.
Morgan entered the game as the fourth receiver with Adrian Arrington a late scratch due to injury, and had an up and down night. The 2011 preseason star, Morgan's night had a muffed punt in the first quarter and a dropped passes throughout to go with his three catches for 35 yards, two punt returns for 34 yards and one kickoff return of 29 yards.
Three carries by 2011 first round pick Mark Ingram punched it into the end zone, though he apparently scored on the second carry from just three yards out. The substitute referees, formerly of the Big 10 conference or the Arena Football League, made a number of gaffes, including considerable delays and clock management issues.
With safety on the NFL's minds, the refs would fail to whistle offsides unabated-to-the-quarterback penalties at least twice. The substitute refs missed some blatant offensive holding calls, saving Saints second string LT Charles Brown some public grief. Film room won't be pleasant for Brown tomorrow.
Chase Daniel took over for the Saints after one drive by Brees but found two three-and-outs. One the his second drive he had passed batted down on two straight passes - bad for a 5'11 guy in Daniel auditioning on national TV for a 2013 starting quarterback job. On his third drive, Daniel got the Saints moving with passes of 10 and 15 yards to WR Courtney Roby, primarily a special teams player, and picked up another first down with his legs on an 11-yard scramble. But the Saints punted from their own 40 after he took a sack on third down.
Morgan muffed and recovered Arizona's first punt, and managed to turn it into a 19-yard return. On the second punt, rookie CB/PR Laron Scott misjudged Dave Zastudil's punt and let it bounce behind him, where it bounded inside the one yard line for a 79 yard punt. It was a bad mistake by the speedy Scott, who would later redeem himself with an impressive, spinning 67-yard kickoff return.
The Cardinals got on the board behind RB Alphonso Smith, who picked up 45 yards on seven carries including the final four yards. Skelton completed 4/5 passes on the drive for 32 yards to tie the score.
Thanks to Scott's good return, Daniel started at the Arizona 40 but the drive stalled at the 4 when Daniel fired incomplete for TE Michael Higgins at the goal line and had it batted away by LB Stewart Bradley. Back to back catches by Roby for 21 and 8 yards helped moved the Saints on that drive, and undrafted rookie RB Travaris Cadet caught his first of a game-high 8 passes out of the backfield. Cadet, undrafted out of Appalachian State, led all receivers with 80 yards and would score later in the second quarter. Cadet's dreadlocks and jersey number 39 - very similar to Chris Ivory's dreadlock-covered 29 - had announcers mistaking his identity throughout the game.
John Kasay's 22-yard field goal put the Saints up 10-7 with 4:44 left in the first half, and Skelton gave way to Richard Bartel, who would be sacked at midfield on a great pass rush by Martez Wilson, who got to the QB first. DT Tom Johnson finished got credit for half the sack by finishing Bartel to the ground at his knees, but it was a great showing for Wilson, who was converted to DE this offseason and showed great explosiveness. Wilson would finish the game with with 1.5 sacks, but would hurt his cause with a holding flag on a punt return.
With two timeouts and 1:48 on the first half clock from his own six yard line, Daniel would shine running the two-minute drill. A run by Ivory would actually draw the Cardinals to use a timeout, then Cadet went to work, taking in three Daniel passes in a row for gains of 18, 7 and 24 yards to the Arizona 42. Daniel hit WR Andy Tanner on back-to-back plays for gains of 17 and 21 yards to the Arizona 4. Calling their last timeout with :32 left, Daniel dropped and hit the rookie Cadet again in the left flat, who turned and crossed the goalline for the score and a jumping, hollering touchdown celebration.
The Saints forced a quick three-and-out from Bartel to start the second half, and after a good 13-yard punt return by Morgan, Daniel went back to work. His first four snaps was a case study on improvisation. The first was a scrambling flip to RB Chris Ivory who turned, made a low fingertip grab running backwards, and made for a 15-yard gain. On the second, rolling wide to his right as usual, Daniel was collared and sacked for a three yard loss. On the third, Daniel scrambled again - to the right - and shovel passed awkwardly quickly to Cadet, who turned upfield for an 11-yard gain that was wiped out by a holding flag on Roby. Back to scrambling on 2nd and 12, Daniel rolled - to the right - pumped madly then found TE Michael Higgins behind the defense for a 21-yard gain. A lot of running and work by Daniel for 35 yards on four plays.
Three plays later, Daniel from the Arizona 3 yard line fired high to the back of the end zone for Higgins, only to be intercepted by a skying rookie DB Blake Gideon, who climbed a ladder grab the pass in the middle of the end zone. It was a very impressive play by Gideon and an improbable result for Daniel, one of his few mistakes on the night.
Lefty Sean Canfield, the Saints' 7th round pick in 2010, took the field after Daniel's day finished with the interception, an otherwise excellent 15/20, 203 yards and a score two quarters for Daniel. Of that total, 91 yards and came on the two-minute drill to end the half, when Daniel was 6/6 and unstoppable.
Southpaw Canfield, who preferred rolling left, finished 7/13 for 66 yards. His supporting cast hurt him at times. Backup C Brian Folkerts, a rookie out of Washburn, bounced a snap off the turn, which was recovered by Joe Banyard for a big loss. On the next play, Canfield throw too late and too soft for Morgan and was very likely intercepted by Arizona DB Larry Parker at the sidelines. Review overturned the interception to incomplete, because the officials felt the ball moved too much when in contact with the ground, but it was a poor throw.
On the next drive, Morgan dropped another from Daniel, but caught the next one for a 15-yard gain over the middle. Canfield hesitated too often to go downfield, bringing up 4th and 8 and a long 54-yard field goal attempt that was partially blocked by rookie S Justin Bethel.
With the bottom of the 90-man roster on the field, we saw Cardinals RB Thomas Clayton blast Saints rookie CB AJ Davis. Tanner, who had an otherwise great day, went up high to make a great catch, but was blasted after a few steps and fumbled the ball away. Saints rookie DT Tyrunn Walker showed some good inside pass rush, and forced a grounding call from fourth string Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley. But Walker himself would be flagged for shoving Lindley to the turf with the back judge just steps away.
Saints LB Lawrence Wilson was beaten by TE Steve Skelton, brother of QB John Skelton, on a seam route pass from Lindley for a 24-yard gain. But three plays later Wilson read Lindley and stepped in front of a pass at the goal line, collecting the interception and returning it 46 yards before stepping out of bounds.
Up by only 7 and with the Cardinals threatening, the Saints were blitzing with the hopes of avoiding overtime, so Wilson's timely interception with 1:40 left in the game was a sigh of relief for many and sealed the win.
WR Adrian Arrington was a late scratch with a recent knee injury, giving Morgan, Roby and Tanner his snaps. Arrington, who has been excellent through one week of training camp, still appears to be the leader for the fourth wide receiver job, but needs to get healthy to keep it. Worries are that the knee injury might need surgery to repair a damaged meniscus, scuttling Arrington's latest attempt to get playing time.
Though CB Elbert Mack was slow to get up on the second to last play of the game, he appeared to be fine. No other injuries were apparent.
After the game, interim head coach Joe Vitt singled out Courtney Roby and the starting offensive line as having standout performances.