GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The New Orleans Saints are not blowing up the scoreboard the way they did a year ago. There have been fewer of the electrifying big plays that are the trademark of the Super Bowl champs. Quarterback Drew Brees says his team is 3-1 despite playing "B-minus football."
That grade could shoot up with an October trip to the desert.
Arizona (2-2), the Saints' foe on Sunday, is reeling from its second blowout loss of the season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has benched quarterback Derek Anderson and will give rookie Max Hall his first NFL start. Hall stands 6-foot-1, perhaps one of the reasons the former BYU standout wasn't drafted. If he needs any inspiration, he can look to Brees, who at 6-0 has become one of the best around.
"Maybe someday we can call him Baby Brees," Arizona rookie wide receiver Stephen Williams said.
Hall is confident and enthusiastic, although he knows that the blitz-crazy Saints will throw everything at him.
"I have a really tough task ahead of me in trying to go against these guys," he said. "I'm going to study them. I'm going to prepare for them like crazy and give it my best shot. I'm going to make mistakes but I am going to give it everything I have. I think we'll be successful."
The untested quarterback will be without two of his top receivers -- Steve Breaston (knee) and Early Doucet (sports hernia). Three rookies, two of them undrafted, are behind No. 1 receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Then there's the defense, which is coming off an awful performance in a 41-10 loss in San Diego and must contend with a quarterback who has completed an eye-popping 74 percent of his passes.
First, though, the Cardinals have to figure out how to stop the run. No matter that Reggie Bush is out with a broken leg and Pierre Thomas could miss his second game in a row with a sprained ankle, leaving the running game to Ladell Betts and rookie Chris Ivory. When Atlanta's top two backs were hurt, third-stringer Jason
Snelling rushed for a career-best 129 yards in a 41-7 rout of Arizona.
"If everybody else has run on us, that's what they're going to try to do, too, until we stop it," Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. "We know that. The big thing is to shut it down early in the game."
New Orleans' running game improved in last week's 16-14 victory over Carolina. If the Saints are moving the ball on the ground, Brees will be free to let it fly downfield.
"The better that you run the football, the more opportunities you have at big plays because now you have to put an extra guy down there," Brees said, "and you're getting single coverage, looks and matchups that you want and those create big plays."
New Orleans is averaging just under 20 points a game after leading the NFL at 31.9 last season.
"We've found a way. That's the positive," Brees said. "The positive is that if you can play B, B-minus football and be sitting here at 3-1, that's pretty good."
The Saints began the week a one-touchdown favorite, a big number for an NFL road team. New Orleans is long accustomed to getting a team's best shot, though, and last week's close call against Carolina proves no opponent can be overlooked.
"I think certainly as we were winning last year and we were 7-0, 8-0, I think in our league people get prepared for you," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Certainly, there's a respect level you have once you've won. But I think, and we just saw it this past weekend, whether it's Green Bay and Detroit or San Francisco and
Atlanta, regardless of who you are playing, you have to really work on your preparation and making sure that you're ready."
Arizona's best hope could be on the ground. The Cardinals, with a one-two punch of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, are averaging 5.4 yards per carry but they have had to abandon the running game when they fell far behind early. Against San Diego, Anderson and Hall were sacked nine times.
Fitzgerald said the rest of the Cardinals have to lighten the load on their rookie quarterback.
"Max doesn't have to do anything special, just go out there and play like he's capable of playing," Fitzgerald said. "Guys around him have to go out there and make their plays. We've had some miscommunication in terms of receivers and other positions that have hampered the progress a little bit from time to time. We can't
make these mistakes against the Saints. These are the world champions coming in here."
Despite all the problems, Arizona is in a three-way tie for the lead in the NFC West.
"We're not hitting the panic button," Whisenhunt said. "We're 2-2. We've got good players. We're just not playing as well as we need to play."
This is a rematch of teams that played in last year's divisional playoff, a 45-14 New Orleans victory.
"It seems that game was three years ago, not just last postseason," Payton said. "Both teams are entirely different and yet there are some common philosophies, some common things that you see both on defense and offense from both teams. But, a lot of changes now, especially in our league with the attrition in players
that were on the field maybe for that playoff game that are no longer on the field for this Sunday's game."
That would include a sorely missed former Arizona quarterback who will be watching from the press box. Kurt Warner will be working as a color analyst for the FOX telecast.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)