Vikings-Saints: The Breakdown

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Vikings-Saints: The Breakdown
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First off, for all those who think Peyton Manning is ahead of Brett Favre on the all-time greatest quarterbacks list, I put out this stat from the only head-to-head matchup the two have had:

In other words, Manning and the Colts against Favre and the Vikings. Here's what I remember. It was Favre and the Packers then. It started with five possessions and five touchdowns—Indy led 21-14 and eventually went on to a 45-31 victory.

Manning: 28-of-40 for 393 yards, five touchdowns, and a passer rating of 140.9
Favre: 30-of-44 for 360 yards, four touchdowns, and a passer rating of 123.3.

Perhaps the greatest regular season shootout ever. I'd say I'm more impressed with Favre's performance, however—even if it is slightly less—because Manning had such a multitude of weapons, all at their primes in that season. It was the year he passed for 49 touchdowns and led his team to a 14-2 record and to the playoffs only to choke and lose to the sixth-seeded Steelers. (Of course, Favre choked even worse to the Vikings that season, and Ted Thompson was hired as general manager to enter and gut the team).

Switch their teams, and I believe Favre would have come away with the W and the better stats in that game, looking at Manning's receivers. It's sort of the case of Manning's entire career in a favorable situation for a good quarterback. I think Favre would have to play another season to have a good shot at keeping Manning away from his records.

Flashback to last week: I was watching the highlights reel. Because of better angles, I realized Favre was far better than I imagined last Sunday. It was amazing to see those two long touchdowns to Rice, who was in tight, Revis-like coverage each time. Both those passes were so beautiful: I mean, they were right there on the money, and Rice made the play on them.

I wonder how many of Favre's interceptions have come like that; him throwing a good ball into coverage and just not having receivers good enough to make a play on them over the DB's? 

What's more, he was being blitzed both times—on one, he took a big hit right after throwing.

The Saints will have to do more than just pressure Brett Favre; he is not a guy with limited out-of-pocket mobility, and he's not a guy who can't complete to any receiver on the field on the run outside the pocket.

He's also not fragile like Kurt Warner. The Cowboys put a licking on him, and the Vikings' offensive line has not been good this year. One hopes that John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt will be better next year, and Anthony Herrera needs to be replaced by Mike Johnson. Steve Hutchinson is unfortunately getting old, as is Bryant Mckennie. There's a lot of work to do there during the next few seasons.

Another reason I think Favre is just as good as Manning—he was just as accurate with the ball, if not more so, than I've seen Manning this season, and he did it without the nice pockets Manning gets from Ryan Diem and Jeff Saturday.

So I have a few thoughts going into the Saints-Vikings match-up. One is that Favre is 11-0 this season playing on dome fields with artificial turf and 14-1 in domes during the last three seasons. He of course has a 5-1 record on the road, with the one loss coming to the Cardinals, who have a grass field and a retractable roof dome.

The Saints lost their last two regular season home games to the Cowboys and the Buccaneers. I took away from those losses that, one, they were vulnerable to a potent pass rush; and two, their run defense is waiting to be exploited—and this guy named Adrian Peterson has been having a slump lately.

In addition, the Vikings have won seven of their last eight matchups with the Saints, including a game last year at the Superdome.

OK. Here is what I imagine the Saints game plan will be. Shift Darren Sharper to get Sidney Rice in double coverage, try to contain Peterson with a seven-man box, and then try to keep Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe covered by two defenders. Put in heavy pressure to stop up Peterson, and put the pressure on Favre to complete it and find the open man.

The plan will be to make Brett Favre beat them under pressure and without his top targets. I think he can do it. The Saints will only be hoping that he can't—or that he makes a few bad decisions trying to get rid of it too fast.

The Vikings' plan will be, first off, to not let Reggie Bush touch a punt. All those punts will be directed out of bounds, and even if they lose 20 yards on the punt trying to do it, they will do it to keep Bush from making the big play.

The second feature is really quite obvious. They are going to focus their game plan on shutting down the Saints' running game and make them one-dimensional. Getting out to another, quick, two-score lead is a crucial part of this; it allows their defensive line to attack the quarterback more effectively.

They want to shut down the run and jostle quarterback Drew Brees to where he has to rely on the short pass and makes a mistake.

They'll be ready for the short screens and draws the Saints will have planned; I wouldn't be surprised to see Chad Greenway come in and intercept a screen meant for Bush.

On offense, the Saints will try to protect Brees by, like I said, incorporating more short passes, draw plays, screens, and quick three-step drops, as well as trying to get their running game involved early.

They want to control the terms of battle; if they can't, they lose, and they know that. They can't let the other defense force them to change their game plan.

The Vikings will be testing. There is nothing Head Coach Brad Childress would love more than to call 50 run plays in this game. Expect to see a bit of trickery, likely early on. I could imagine the first play of the game being a fake hand-off to Peterson that is then handed to Harvin, who could take it all the way for a big gain. I'd expect to see him get the ball on two or three rush plays just to mix it up and see if they can't confuse the Saints and gash them for the big run while at the same time putting them off-balance.

Berrian is going to be more involved, and I expect him to have a big game in single coverage against Randall Gay and the fact that Berrian buried this team last year for a career day all point toward a big performance.

I think the tight ends for the Vikings will be big, with Harvin pulling attention in the middle. It could be a big yardage day for Shiancoe—and even a few nice, surprise flicks to the blocking tight ends Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinselter.

Important injuries: Both these teams come in pretty banged up. The Vikings have to be extremely worried about how good Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards are going to be feeling with dinged knees. I say, give 'em a shot of cortisone today, and on game day, take some Aleve and go out there and play—this is too important.

Jimmy Kennedy is a good DT also, however, and he always plays well when relieving Pat Williams; he could have a big day. Harvin is also having migraine issues again, but I say, deal with it. Former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis rushed for three touchdowns and beat the Packers in Favre's last Super Bowl appearance while dealing with a migraine.

The Saints need to be pretty worried, too. Lane Moore, Jeremy Shockey, and Pierre Thomas are all dealing with significant injuries, and they are not at 100 percent.

My note to Favre flamers: The outcome of this game is irrelevant to what I am about to say. I've heard a lot of inaccurate crap lately; first off, how utterly awful he played in the 2007 NFC Championship Game. To listen to some of these people, he cost them the game. Let me give you some game notes to refresh your history:

1. Why not start at the beginning? Packers return man fumbles the ball, teammate recovers it, leaving them stuck on their own 10-yard line following a kickoff. No problem, because the very next play is a 90-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Donald Driver.

2. At the beginning of the second half, the Giants got the ball back. In a crucial drive, the Packers' defense hit Eli Manning late, giving the Giants a first down on what had been a failed third-down conversion. Later, an even more damaging penalty was committed ,and it overturned an Al Harris interception. Four defensive penalties on the drive gave the Giants a touchdown and put the Packers down 13-10 without Favre ever haven committed a mistake (thus far into the game).

3. Good kick return, then a Giants' defensive penalty, and Favre hits Donald Lee for a 12-yard touchdown pass. The Packers then proceed to give the Giants great field position, and Manning leads them on another scoring drive. The score is still 20-17 without Favre having made a mistake.

4. Then Favre gets nervous and is intercepted by R.W. McQuarters; Ryan Grant makes his only play of the game and strips it, and the Packers recover no worse for the wear. They end up kicking a field goal. Score is 20-20.

5. Defense then burned again, but gets lucky as Giants miss a field goal. They also get lucky when a huge Ahmed Bradshaw touchdown run is nullified because of offensive holding. However, this did not stop the Giants. No, indeed. They drove all the way to the Packers 18-yard line; however, they got incredibly lucky, and Lawrence Tynes missed a second, easy field goal.

I'll just quit numbering right now. Here's one quote from a sports reporter though:

"I have heard a lot of rumblings, posts, and even articles about how Sunday's NFC title loss was Brett Favre's fault. This is beyond laughable. How about wide receivers, basically everyone not named Donald Driver, was nonexistent, and when their number was called, they dropped balls. People say Favre was not great that day. Well, how about some of the fantastic passes he put right in the receivers' hands and they dropped the ball (can you say Ruvell Martin). The QB can only do so much; the receivers have to hold up their end of the bargain and catch the ball, too.

"So lastly, there was Favre. Did he play his best game ever? No. Did he force a bad pass that got picked off? Yes, but that ball was fumbled and recovered by Green Bay for a first down, so that hardly did anything to cost the game. If anything, it should have given them a little more fire.

"Was that a bad pass that turned into an INT in OT? Yes, it was, but the decision and call were fine, it was just a bad pass; that is on Favre, but guess what? They never should have been in OT in the first place.

Everyone's love child, Tom Brady, completed a similar percentage of passes in the AFC title game, he threw for fewer yards than Favre, and he had three interceptions, including an INT in the end zone while the Pats were in the red zone trying to score. Did Brady "win" their game for them? No, in fact, if anything, he did everything he could to not win it. Did he lose their game for them though? No, because the rest of his team stepped up.

"Maroney ran the ball well; his defense did an acceptable job in keeping the Chargers out of the end zone his special teams mates did their job in coverage and on punts, and his O-line opened wholes for the running game, and his coach didn't go against what got them there.

"Point is, if any, not all, just one of any of the areas that played poorly had stepped up their game on Sunday, we would be talking about a Green Bay win instead of listening to these idiots blame Favre for the loss. He is part of the team and deserves part of the blame (about 10th on my list of many people to blame), but it does not reside squarely on his shoulders as some would suggest."

Other notes are that Ryan Grant rushed for less than 30 yards and an average per carry of less than 2.5 yards.

The Packers' defense gave Plaxico Burress 11 receptions for 154 yards.

That author is completely right. If both of Favre's interceptions were returned for touchdowns, the Packers would still have won that game. His turnovers resulted in a whopping three points for the Giants; had other areas of the defense stepped up, they would have won.

What's more is there was a horrible game plan, and in subzero temperatures, they tried to pass the ball all day long. Receivers dropped numerous passes, and of course, Favre, being 38, wasn't at his best in the cold and the elements.

Did Favre have a good game? No, no one would argue that—though I say he did pretty decently for the game plan he was given and the play of his receivers. But he had an average game at worst. The other portions of the team failed, simple as that. The Giants really should have won without ever going into overtime, but the Packers got really lucky when Tynes choked twice.

I felt then and I still feel they lost that game because of a terrible plan and execution by Mike McCarthy. Yeah, Favre threw to Driver when he was covered, but I don't think he expected his other receivers to be able to make, you know, a catch.

Yeah, Favre is not a good quarterback anymore when the temperatures are below zero; he's too old for the cold.

That was one of the most gut-wrenching losses and games ever; I've never seen another game with so much futility, lead changes, and finally a huge letdown as Tynes made his longest and most important field goal of the day. It still hurts to think about it to this day.

Oh, don't you Packers fans ever think of what might have happened if Thompson had pursued Randy Moss when he had the opportunity? I think the Packers would have had a Super Bowl for a third-round draft pick. Instead, Thompson and Murphy laughed off Favre's attempts to get Moss, and well, we all know what happened.

Of course, how were they to know Favre would lead the team to a completely unexpected 13-3 record and put them in prime position to get to the Super Bowl?

But the one I hadn't heard before was about how much he sucked in his Super Bowl loss to John Elway. Really? He completed 60 percent of his passes for 250 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, and he sucked it up out there.

Favre actually easily outperformed Elway, who had less than 150 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. The problem was a Packers defense which gave up an astounding four rushing touchdowns, including one to 38-year-old Elway. Terrell Davis had a migraine and didn't even have to play the second quarter to still rush for 150+ yards and three touchdowns on the day, one of which was given up when Mike Holmgren told the Packers defense to let them score so they would have enough time to answer them.

That one was also not a loss that was on Favre.

Anyway, my final prediction for Sunday's game? Vikings 38, Saints 34. Favre gets his swan song. Hopefully, he'll still come back anyway, and even hook up with the now cheaply available Terrell Owens; after all, Elway got to end his career with two straight Super Bowl appearances.

Come on, Favre, become one with the Ego.

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