The Cardinals will be going on the road this week to take on a strong Saints defense that enters this week ranked 11th in points allowed per game, seventh in yard allowed per game, and seventh in opponent drive success rate. Notable games through the air against the Saints this year have all come from elite wide receivers ::
Throughout the season, we have tracked a number of ways in which the Cardinals’ offense has been adaptable and willing to evolve — but while most of these trends toward adaptability have been positive for DFS, the trend that has really taken away from expectations on players in this offense has been the Cardinals’ willingness to spread the ball around through the air. Through the first two weeks of the season, Larry Fitzgerald averaged 12 targets per game while Christian Kirk averaged 10, and these two players combined for three games of 100+ yards in that stretch. Since those first two games, however, only Kirk (once) has topped even eight targets, and no wide receiver or tight end on the Cardinals has topped even 70 receiving yards. New Orleans is shaving over 5% off the league-average expected yards per target, with elite tackling and solid catch rate prevention. This makes it difficult for broken plays to hit against this defense and creates a situation in which volume is the best way to chase upside — while volume has been difficult to come by on the Cardinals offense of late. If Kirk returns this week, he carries legitimate upside (as an obviously still-speculative play after a long layoff, and now returning to a team that has been spreading the ball around), but everything else in this passing attack right now is just hoping for a touchdown or for a shift in volume in a below-average matchup. (If choosing to make this bet :: Fitz is obviously the player likeliest to post a touchdown and/or see a volume spike.)
New Orleans is also solid against running backs — having allowed 3.97 yards per carry to the position. The Saints have faced the fifth lowest opponent rush play rate in the league; but there are some interesting elements in this matchup if the Cardinals decide to lean on the run. The Saints have been really tough to run on up the middle, but it has been possible to hit them on runs to the edges. Throughout the season, we have used this space to explore the fact that David Johnson is being over-used on runs up the middle — but while DJ has been over-used on such runs, Chase Edmonds has been kept away from such runs, with over half of his carries so far coming off tackle or to the edges (rather than over center/guard). DJ failed to practice on Wednesday this week, and the Cardinals signed both Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner — signaling potential concern over DJ’s status. Zenner and Morris (especially Morris) are potential goal line vultures, but neither player does a whole lot that fits well with this offense. While we don’t typically target running backs against the Saints, Edmonds is legitimately viable this week if DJ misses — with likely four or more catches and 15+ carries, and with the matchup setting up fairly well for what Edmonds does best.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona has been a no-resistance defense, ranking bottom eight in run defense DVOA, pass defense DVOA, yards allowed per carry, and yards allowed per pass attempt. The Cardinals have allowed the fourth most yards and the fifth most points, while ranking 29th in opponent drive success rate.
Long-term, we should see this defense improve somewhat with Patrick Peterson able to shut down one side of the field — but he has a really difficult test this week against Michael Thomas, who can win in almost any matchup. Last week, Peterson looked about like you would expect a guy to look who hasn’t been allowed to practice with his team for six weeks :: a bit rusty and in need of extra reps. Of course, that can go away quickly, and Thomas has not been priced down for Peterson (instead being left alone for his matchup with “Arizona”) — introducing clear price-considered risk here as one of the highest-priced wide receivers on all sites (though the raw points should still be solid). As crazy as it is to say, expectations don’t change all that much based on whether or not Drew Brees makes it back under center this week. If you had just been watching Thomas’ box scores, you wouldn’t know Brees had missed time — and in fact, you might even think Brees must have been on a hot streak of late.
Even as the Cardinals focus on taking away opposing rushing attacks, they are allowing 4.36 yards per carry to the position without the talent to really be a force in this area. Arizona has also struggled against running backs out of the backfield — with a low target count to running backs on the year (due to wide receivers and tight ends running free downfield), but with an 87% completion rate allowed to the position. For a Saints team that focuses on Thomas and the running backs first and foremost (with Thomas set to do battle with Patrick Peterson), this is a solid spot for whichever player finds himself in the backfield this week. If it’s Alvin Kamara, he will enter with recent touch counts of 25 // 20 // 22 // 18 — and he would likely land in the 18 to 20 touch range once again with Latavius Murray playing well (and with the bye week just around the corner). If Kamara misses, Latavius will likely see a heavy snap count and workload again after playing 64 out of 76 snaps last week. Twenty or more touches with ground work, a red zone role, and pass game involvement should be the expectation for Latavius if Kamara is out.
And while the Saints tend to run their offense through Michael Thomas and the backfield, we should also expect Sean Payton to exploit the tight end matchup. The floor here is a big fat question mark — but if Jared Cook is playing, four to seven targets is a comfortable range for him; and if Cook misses, there is potential for Josh Hill to see four or five looks of his own.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Kyler Murray is always viable for his rushing upside in a fast-paced offense — but this is a tough spot on the road vs a solid all-around defense, which likely leaves Kyler as a tourney-only piece for me this week. And with the Cardinals spreading around the ball so much through the air, I’ll likely have no interest in Kyler’s pass catchers outside of deeper play as well. The most interesting piece on the Cardinals is Edmonds (assuming DJ misses). The matchup is non-ideal, but it’s also not the worst a running back could have, and Edmonds will be involved enough to have opportunities to hit.
On the Saints’ side, Michael Thomas is overpriced for his date with Patrick Peterson, but he’s still a solid play with some paths to upside (regardless of who is under center). The Saints running backs are also viable with the Saints carrying a lofty Vegas-implied team total of 29.75, and with this being the spot that will need to pick up the slack if Thomas is checked by Peterson.
Behind these options, “Saints tight end” is interesting in tourneys — and while the Saints have had a difficult time this year getting other wide receivers going (and while volume on these guys has been locked into the lower ranges), Ted Ginn is viable as a large-field play. The Saints are going to find a way to score points in this spot — and if Thomas gets held to a non-elite game, that action will have to spill over into some other spots.
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