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Hall of Fame Game: New Orleans Saints 17, Arizona Cardinals 10
Perhaps the most glaring observation made during this game was how little the Saints offensive system will change in 2012, despite the absence of head coach Sean Peyton. New Orleans opened the game putting the ball in the hands of Drew Brees with rapid decision making, marching straight down the field to score a quick touchdown. Those who questioned Brees' 2012 fantasy value got their answer (myself included).
This game also taught us that the Saints will continue to utilize all three running backs in the same roles from last season. Pierre Thomas started the game, garnering most of the carries between the 20s. Darren Sproles entered the mix primarily as the “pass-catching running back,” while Mark Ingram finished the scoring drive taking the goal line carry in for a touchdown. Sproles still looks to be the player to own, but the timeshare will continue.
The battle between kicker John Kasay and Garrett Hartley didn’t become any clearer. Kasay handled field goal duties going 1-for-2 with a block, while Hartley nailed both extra point opportunities. Whoever emerges has serious fantasy value.
Considering the physical nature in which Jimmy Graham plays the position, we should note the Saints’ backup tight end looks to be Michael Higgins. Although miniscule now, put this in the back end of your notes, especially if Graham is your starting tight end exiting the draft.
Exiting last season, and throughout the offseason, the hot topic coming out of Arizona has been the quarterback competition. As expected, Kevin Kolb started the game only to throw an ugly interception on his first pass attempt after failing to recognize the coverage of Malcolm Jenkins. On the Cardinals’ third possession, Kolb would be hit hard and forced to leave the game with an injury the Cardinals are calling a rib contusion (fancy word for bruise). We should remember that Kolb has never played more than nine games while struggling with numerous injuries ranging from turf toe all the way to concussions (get it, head to toe).
Replacing Kolb was third-year player John Skelton. During my offseason breakdown of the Cardinals, I noted that Skelton proved to be the superior player in 2011 while increasing the value of all Cardinals' offensive players, especially Larry Fitzgerald. Skelton did not disappoint. He correctly read the Saints defense, adjusting the play and making accurate throws in the face of pressure (nothing feels better than when a bold prediction is validated).
Examining this game, we should also recognize that La'Rod Stephens-Howling was the Cardinals’ starting running back with Chris ‘ Beanie’ Wells and Ryan Williams both recovering from injury. Stephens-Howling generated a formidable ground game, picking up 25 yards on four carries. He is certainly a player that should be on your “watch list.”
Stephens-Howling was later replaced by fourth-string running back Alfonso Smith. A free agent pick-up in most leagues last season, Smith continued to display tough downhill running and allusiveness. Although most of his runs came against the Saints’ second-string defense, Smith managed 46 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Smith is also a player worth monitoring as we near the regular season.
Despite a bad drop in the third quarter, Cardinals tight end Rob Housler also looked impressive. During the offseason, the Arizona coaching staff has made it clear they intend to utilize the tight end position with greater consistency. We should note that head coach Ken Whisenhunt played tight end in college while being a tight ends coach during the early stages of this coaching career. Housler is a player also being placed firmly on the “watch list,” but not yet draftable with starter Todd Heap still in the mix.
After yet another long and cold offseason, it was awesome to finally watch some football. With most league drafts just around the corner, we can now begin monitoring the preseason action. Start firing up those mock drafts and put together your draft plans. It’s time to play football.
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