Five Keys for the Minnesota Vikings Offense Against the New Orleans Saints

Matthew HockingCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - JANUARY 17:  Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on January 17, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Vikings defeated the Cowboys 34-3.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Last week, I took a look at what the Minnesota Vikings had to do to stop the red hot Dallas Cowboys offense and, for the most part, they did. I’m pretty sure they even dressed Jamarca Sandford and Antoine Winfield in Maddieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson jerseys, which would explain a lot.

And to all the Tony Romo apologists…I’m not going to say “I told you so,” even though I kind of just did.

This week, defense is no longer the word. Sure, I’d love to sit here and spout off bullet points about how to stop the New Orleans Saints, but without actual bullets, it’s going to be difficult.

The truth is, the Vikings offense is going to have to win this game. But, shockingly, I think they can actually do it. OK, maybe it’s not that shocking. The Vikings were the second highest scoring offense in the league this season; behind the Saints, of course.

The difference, however, is that, while I agree that the Vikings defense will have a hard time keeping up with the Saints, the Viking offense matches up really well with the New Orleans defense, which will keep the ball out of the hands of Drew Brees and company.

5. Don’t Fear Sharper

Darren Sharper has been playing out of his mind this year, but nobody knows better than Vikings fans that he makes mistakes. Sharper is an excellent “centerfield” safety, but he can be contained in a few different ways.

Firstly, he can be fooled. A veteran quarterback like Brett Favre can put Sharper out of position with a fake pumps and mixing up his reads. Sharper can be fooled.

He’s so eager to make plays that he’ll often play himself out of coverage. Get him flowing in one direction and you can burn him deep.

The other way to keep Sharper out of plays is to complete passes underneath and make him tackle. Sharper has never been the most physical safety and the Vikings' receiver corps, especially Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, will be able power through Sharper’s arm tackles.

4. Keep Favre Upright

Of course, Favre can’t make those plays against the Saints' secondary unless he stays on his feet. And while he’s shown remarkable elusiveness for a man pushing 80, he still needs quite a pocket.

Will Smith is playing more like Independence Day than Wild Wild West, and the Saints' pass rush put Kurt Warner out of the Arizona Cardinals game and kept the Cardinals offense off base.

Phil Loadholt, Bryant McKinney, and the rest of the Vikings' line did a great job protecting against a hot Dallas defense, and they’ll need to redouble their efforts here, lest they want to see how Tarvaris Jackson lines up against the Saints.

One thing the Vikings did to stop Dallas' outside pass rush was running chip and go patterns with their receivers, which led to touchdowns from Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe.

The Vikings are better off in that regard than the Cardinals because they run much better out of the base I and two tight end sets that allow a bit of extra time for the quarterback to drop back.

3. Make Use of This Sidney Rice Guy

The Saints did a great job of shutting down Larry Fitzgerald, but a lot of that had to do with the Cardinals not giving Kurt Warner a lot of time in the pocket as passes to Fitzgerald usually take a little longer to develop.

Favre has an eerie psychic link to Rice this season, and Sidney is capable of running just about any route on the field. It’s imperative he get involved early and often.

Setting up a few quick interior slants or hook routes just to get Rice involved and into the game will set up some of the deeper patterns that they like to run.

Additionally, Rice is physical and the Saints’ corners aren’t spectacular tacklers, so he will take a couple of those short gainers for long yardage.

The key to winning a championship game is to get your key players making plays in the first quarter, so feeding Rice the ball early on is going to be crucial.

2. Find Out What Happened to Percy Harvin

Now I know nothing has really actually happened to Percy Harvin, but Sunday against Dallas he was mostly used as a decoy, basically held out of the passing game with only one big running play.

Harvin is too talented to keep out of the playoffs and New Orleans doesn’t have the personnel to keep up with Harvin’s speed and explosiveness in three wide sets. Even if they roll Bernard Berrian’s coverage toward Harvin, it opens up new holes in the secondary.

Additionally, of course, Harvin will have more opportunities out of the backfield and won't have to face Dallas' kickoff team, so he should have a much better special teams performance.

Harvin should got back and watch Reggie Bush's film from last week, because that's what Harvin should shoot for this week. If anything, Harvin's skill set is more well rounded than Bush's, so he should be part of an even broader multi-faceted attack.

As much as Favre has been credited with helping Rice develop this year, Harvin had a pretty special season with Brett, as well. Now it's time to cash in on that relationship.

1. Establish the Run, and then Keep Running It

One guy who didn’t have a special season was Adrian Peterson. OK, it was good. Very good, in fact, but we all know that Peterson was capable of so much more.

And while he still has the same energy of the previous two years, most of it has been exerted this year venting his frustration on the sidelines over a hole he saw too late or another lost fumble.

However, you can’t help but feel that AD is on the brink of a huge game, and the Saints defense is ripe to be gashed by a premier running back. Hell, even Arizona scored a huge rushing touchdown on Saturday on the opening play, but they couldn’t capitalize due to the fact that their running game is actually just on this side of non-existent.

Think of it this way: New Orleans gave up the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season and the 12th most yards. By comparison, Adrian Peterson had the most rushing touchdowns this season and the fifth most yards. Something has to give.

For the Vikings to beat the Saints, they need to control the clock and put up points early and often. That means the real Adrian Peterson needs to step up this week, along with Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin.

If two out of those three can get it working on Sunday, it’s going to spell trouble for the Saints.


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