x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cards ready for shoot-out

New Orleans opened the season 13-0 despite a poor defence, but will they hold up against Arizona's set of wide receivers, led by the explosive Larry Fitzgerald.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will come up against the Saints.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will come up against the Saints.

You could not blame the Arizona Cardinals if they were desperate to get at the New Orleans Saints defence in today's NFC divisional play-off game after ringing up 51 points on the Green Bay Packers while eliminating them from the play-offs last weekend. Then again, the same could be said for the Saints as they are up against a Cardinals' defence that allowed 45 points in the same game.

One thing seems certain. Regardless of who wins at the Louisiana Superdome, this game will not be a defensive struggle. The defending NFC champion Cardinals twice gave up 500 yards this season and allowed Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to pass for 403 yards last weekend while the Saints' defence finished 25th in a 32-team league in total defense and 20th in points allowed, giving up 21.3 a game. If you want to see defense, don't watch this game.

One has to wonder just how New Orleans opened the season 13-0 with such a defence, but the larger question down on the bayou is whether or not they can hold up against Arizona's set of wide receivers led by the explosive Larry Fitzgerald. This is a particularly worrisome scenario because the Saints enter their first play-off game this season on a three-game losing streak. New Orleans were one of the hottest teams in the NFL until their undefeated streak ended after 13 wins. Since then their once-potent offence has grown quiet while their defence has not stepped up to fill the breach. This is a concern for New Orleans because they had the league's No 1 ranked offence for three of the past four years but won only one play-off game and never got close to the Super Bowl.

What the Saints do have is the support of a city still trying to recover from Hurricance Katrina's devastation. As a form of release from their worries, the community has rallied around the Saints, turning the Superdome into a deafening place for opponents. If there's anyone who should be able to handle that it's Arizona's 38-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner played much of his career in St Louis and has led three teams to the Super Bowl, including the Cardinals last year. Rumours surfaced this week that he will retire at the end of the season - he would like nothing better than to go out by taking the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl title, as he did with the Rams in 1999.

"Everyone thinks this is going to be an offensive shoot-out,'' said Saints' quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is one of the game's elite quarterbacks, a passer who is deadly accurate but can also throw the deep ball when someone like Pro Bowl receiver Marques Colston gets behind the defence. In addition, New Orleans have a power running game and the multifaceted Reggie Bush, who is a dangerous receiver and return man as well as the kind of back who can score at any moment.

Warner feels the same way about the Cardinals' weapons. Last week against Green Bay, he managed to throw more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), a remarkable day that was needed because his defence could not stop an apple from rolling off a table. If that's the case in New Orleans, the Saints will be ready to go marching in to the NFC Championship Game. Unless, of course, the Cardinals out score them. @Email:sports@thenational.ae New Orleans v Arizona, 1.30am Sunday, Showsports 4

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