1) The Saints' offseason moves suggested they wanted to move to a run-heavy offense, but Drew Brees threw a ridiculous 48 passes against the Cardinals and the running game barely got moving. What happened there?
Sean Payton happened. And...to be completely fair, the Cardinals' outstanding defensive line happened too. The Saints were averaging below three yards a carry last Sunday, while the screen game and the passing game in general were working as a charm. So Payton took what the defense gave him, but also happily reverted to his nature, which is to air it out every chance he gets. I still expect the Saints to try and run the ball more moving forward, but I don't think they'll bang their head against the wall if the running game isn't really producing.
2) How is the defense progressing in their third year under Rob Ryan? That group was a disaster last season, but are early returns more promising after some overhauls this past year?
This may sound ridiculous: I think they will be better this year than last; much better actually. The Saints were 31st in total defense in the NFL last season and they just gave up over 400 yards of offense to the Cards. But they also started a plethora of rookies against Arizona (Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Damian Swann, Delvin Breaux, Tyeler Davison) while veterans like Keenan Lewis, Jairus Byrd and Rafael Bush did not see the field or left the game (in Bush's case).
Despite all this youth and inexperience, New Orleans held a good Arizona offense in check until the fourth quarter, and gave Brees and the Saints' offense plenty of opportunities to put more pressure on the Cards' offense. Arizona eventually pulled away, but these young players showed enough promise in game one for Saints fans to expect them to improve as the season progresses.
3) Can you name one unknown player who will have a big impact on the game?
I'm assuming that by "unknown" you mean a guy who's not a household name yet, right? Then it's linebacker/defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha. A rookie out of Washington, Kikaha had a forced fumble in last Sunday's game. He also had five tackles (including four solo) and was a pain the neck all game long for Arizona's left tackle. Pass-rushing from Jameis Winston's blindside, I wouldn't be surprised if Kikaha has a huge impact on the game with several quarterback hurries, maybe a sack, and at the very least, by inducing one or two holding penalties on the Buccaneers.
4) What's the outlook like for the rest of the Saints' season? Will they compete for the division title, or is this more of a rebuilding year?
Well, given how soft this NFC South division is, I think the Saints will compete for its title indeed. I wouldn't actually be surprised if Tampa Bay does as well as Winston gets better. Carolina didn't look otherworldly against the lowly Jags. Atlanta nearly lost at home against the Eagles and the Saints and Bucs are already 0-1. Drew Brees remains an elite quarterback despite his age. He once again had a very good game in Arizona, where he was mostly hurt by the youth (that word again) of his receiving corps. Think about it: Brandon Coleman, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Josh Hill...these were some of the guys catching (and mostly not catching) the ball from him last Sunday if we don't include the running backs and the two old guys Marques Colston and Ben Watson. As the season goes on, I fully expect the Saints to gradually improve and by mid-season, to be a team that no one will want to play. Now, is this a Super Bowl contending team? No chance! They'll contend for the NFC South, but that's going to be the extent of it in 2015.
5) With Jimmy Graham gone, who's the go-to guy on offense for the Saints? Is Marques Colston declining, or can he still play that role?
Marques, unfortunately is nearing the end of an unlikely, yet amazing football career. He can't be that guy anymore, unless he calls Kobe Bryant and goes to Germany to get that platelet-enriched therapy for his knees. He's not the go-to-guy anymore and second-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks was supposed to be. After game one, I get the feeling that Cooks isn't exactly ready to be that dominant number one guy either. The number one receiver on any team can't be shut down the way Cooks was by Patrick Peterson last Sunday. Sure PP7 is awesome (as an LSU fan, I know it too well), yet Cooks was almost a non-factor.
Now maybe Cooks will adjust mentally and realize that he needs to step up his game and be tougher now that he is being covered by the number one cornerback from the opposing team on a regular basis. The better Cooks plays, the better Colston and the other receivers will be, because coverage is going to roll towards Cooks. So right now, the Saints' go-to-guy in the open man. As Saints fans, we hope that Cooks will take charge and assume that leadership role on the field, otherwise the Saints' offense this season will really be something like "Drew Brees and the 10 dwarves."