Mandatory Credit: Photo by Danny Karnik/AP/Shutterstock (13388603bi) New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) returns to the huddle during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 27-26 Saints Falcons Football, Atlanta, United States – 11 Sep 2022
New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (2-4)
The New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals both enter Thursday Night Football sitting at 2-4, but they are both in divisions where they haven’t fallen terribly far behind the leaders. Neither the NFC South nor the NFC West has a single team better than 3-3, making Thursday night’s game even more crucial than meets the eye. Each team entered the season with lofty expectations but has dealt with injuries in droves as they attempt to get their season off the ground.
New Orleans has been banged up all season but finally enters Week 7’s trip to Arizona healthy at quarterback. It remains to be seen whether Jameis Winston or Andy Dalton ultimately gets the start, but whoever does take the reins will still be working with a banged-up offensive group. Wide receivers Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry have been ruled out, along with tight end Adam Trautman and guards Andrus Peat and Forrest Lamp (on Injured Reserve since August). Rookie standout wide receiver Chris Olave is expected to play and will likely be a big part of the Saints’ passing game alongside Alvin Kamara, Marquez Callaway, and Tre’Quan Smith.
The Saints have masked some of their offensive deficiencies with creativity, much of which involves the usage of tight end Taysom Hill as a Swiss army knife of sorts. Hill and Kamara make up much of the Saints’ seventh-ranked rushing attack, which is averaging 151 yards per game on the season. Arizona’s defense handles the run well, ranking seventh, allowing just over 100 yards on the ground per game. Whether it’s Dalton or Winston under center, a consistent passing game would go a long way for New Orleans Thursday night to take some pressure off the ground game.
Arizona’s offense ranks middle-of-the-road across the board but has struggled, especially over the past two weeks, with just 26 points combined against Philadelphia and Seattle. Like the Saints, the Cardinals’ offense is also dealing with a ton of injury-related adversity. They’ll be without running back James Conner, starting offensive linemen Rodney Hudson and Justin Pugh on Thursday night, and lost wide receiver Marquise Brown for at least a month with a foot injury on Sunday. DeAndre Hopkins’ return from his six-game suspension ought to provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the Cardinals’ offense, especially given the fact that Arizona is 8-2 in games in which both Kyler Murray and Hopkins play together. It doesn’t hurt for Arizona that Saints’ cornerback Marshon Lattimore is unavailable, an absence that should make things a bit easier on the Cardinals’ passing game. The Cardinals also added a potential deep threat in Robbie Anderson, who was traded this week following a tumultuous afternoon on the sidelines in Los Angeles as a Carolina Panther. With Arizona’s offensive line as thin as it is, the tall task of keeping New Orleans’ excellent defensive front out of their backfield will be a key to opening up a potentially explosive passing attack.
The winner Thursday night will undoubtedly feel as if their goals are all still in front of them, sitting at 3-4 in a division where that leaves them only half a game off the lead. They both have plenty of divisional games ahead, but a 2-5 start will put one of them in dire straits through seven weeks.