Jimmy Graham is iffy for this contest. Obviously, New Orleans' offense will still be stuffed with good skill players if he's out of the lineup, but how do you think the team's game plan would change if Ben Watson starts?
Cariello: Well, Watson is certainly no replacement for Graham. Don't expect Watson to simply inherit all of Graham's targets, because that certainly won't be the case. I expect we'll simply see Drew Brees spread the ball around to everyone else, which means we might see a little more of Nick Toon and rookie Kenny Stills. Lance Moore, another of Brees' favorite targets, is also expected to return to the lineup this week, so he'll probably get a fair share of looks as well.
It seems like the Saints are always finding obscure running backs that excel in their offense. Who the bloody hell is Khiry Robinson, and what should we expect out of him working alongside Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas on Sunday?
Cariello: Haha - you're right, the Saints are incredible at finding undrafted running backs. Thomas, Chris Ivory, and now Robinson out of West Texas A&M. He was just too good to let go after an impressive preseason performance. The Saints like to just pepper him in here and there, as a change of pace power back of sorts, or on the goal line. He's good for about 8-10 carries. If the Saints have a healthy lead late in the game, Robinson will also get a bunch of bonus garbage time carries.
Doug Marrone spent three seasons in New Orleans as the nominal offensive coordinator and, more importantly, the offensive line coach. What recollections, if any, do you have of Marrone's time working for Sean Payton?
Cariello: Honestly, I really don't have much light to shed on Marrone. No interesting anecdotes. The Saints had the best offense in the NFL for two of Marrone's three seasons here, so that's obviously got to count for something. But I've always thought Payton had more to do with that, in addition to calling the plays. Marrone definitely gets respect for being a part of the 2006 rebuilding year, which turned out to be the start of a magical era in New Orleans. Starting offensive linemen Jahri Evans and Zach Strief both played under Marrone. This is the first time Payton will be facing one of his former assistant coaches in the regular season.
Rob Ryan has transformed one of the NFL's worst defenses into one of its best almost overnight, and with some key players on IR, as well. Which Saints defenders have made the biggest turnaround under Ryan's tutelage?
Cariello: A lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball are playing better than they've ever played. But pass rusher Junior Galette and defensive end Cameron Jordan for sure. Both players have blossomed this year, becoming the heat-seeking quarterback missiles we knew they could be. Granted, they're no Mario Williams, but their play on defense this season has been a breath of fresh air. With the inexperienced Thad Lewis starting this Sunday, I would expect Ryan to unleash Galette and Jordan in an attempt to rattle the young quarterback. Jordan hasn't practiced this week, however, so his status is still iffy for Sunday.
It's now been five years since Jabari Greer left Buffalo for greener pastures in New Orleans. He recently signed a lucrative contract extension, and remains entrenched as a starter. Where does he rank in a long list of great Saints personnel moves over the last several years?
Cariello: You're being nice when you say, "long list of great Saints personnel moves." I could certainly list my fair share of bad ones. But landing Greer was definitely a good one. He's not great, but he's definitely good. Though on the backside of his career, he's solid and he's reliable. Some fans were hoping that this would be the year 2010 first-round draft pick Patrick Robinson would unseat Greer as the starter, but Robinson's season was cut short due to injury. Really, it's hit or miss with Greer; sometimes he makes a great play, and sometimes he's getting beat by Kenbrell Thompkins in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady with five seconds remaining in the game.