Minnesota Vikings: 5 Keys to Beating the New Orleans Saints
The 10-3 Saints have plenty of reasons to go all-out on this emaciated Vikings team that has long been eliminated from playoff contention. Among those reasons are multiple passing records that are within reach for their elite play-caller Drew Brees.
The Saints are within a breath of playoff contention, and a win over the Vikings will all but lock a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Despite the fact that the Vikings have been so affected by injuries and off-field issues, the return of Adrian Peterson and a healthy Christian Ponder could spell surprise for the Saints if utilized correctly.
In a game that has been all but marked as a win for New Orleans, the Vikings may be able to upset the Saints by abiding by a few keys and limiting the production of a very intimidating opponent.
Here are five keys for the Vikings against the New Orleans Saints.
Take the Deep Pass Away from Drew Brees
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With the Vikings' secondary in shambles the way it is, it will be difficult to match up against one of the most versatile and productive passing attacks in football. The Vikings have virtually all but one starter in the secondary out for the rest of the season and with injuries to even the back-ups, they've had to resort to pulling in DBs off the street—and it isn't working.
The only hope that Minnesota has in keeping Brees from passing for over 500 yards on them in to utilize the Cover 2 to take away the middle of the field. If even that proves futile, they may even resort to a Cover 3, but ultimately they will have to drastically improve their tackling to keep the YAC of the underneath receivers to a minimum.
Young DBs like Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Asher Allen will really have to step up against a receiver corps that, much like their divisional rival Green Bay Packers, goes five-deep.
If Minnesota can somehow force the Saints to run the football, they may actually stand a chance at slowing down—not stopping—this explosive offense.
Stop Jimmy Graham
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With the obvious exception of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, Saints TE Jimmy Graham may be the best young receiver in the NFL.
The 6'6" 260-pounder has already accumulated 80 receptions for 1,101 yards and eight touchdowns this season. The Vikings obviously have a tough time against the pass, but this particular TE could spell disaster for Minnesota if they get backed up into the red zone by the Saints offense.
Along with taking away the deep ball, taking away Brees' most dangerous weapon is the single most important thing the Vikings defense can do to stop their opponents.
If the Saints have even watched tape on the Vikings secondary yet, Graham has probably been salivating all over himself in excitement for Sunday afternoon.
The Vikings need to keep a body on Graham at all times in order to keep the score manageable for their offense to keep up with.
Get Pressure on Drew Brees
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Though the Vikings have only the 18th ranked defense in the NFL, they are third in sacks with 40.
Of those, 17.5 of those sacks were added by Jared Allen who not only leads the league in sacks, but just reached 100.5 for his career with three against the Lions. Along with the sacks, Allen has also added 54 tackles, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception. This impressive 2011 resume should be enough to get him in the running for defensive MVP in the NFL.
With Allen's great number of sacks, he's within five of Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 in one season. Allen is no doubt bloodthirsty to accomplish this great milestone that has been nothing but disappointment in every other aspect of the team.
Drew Brees is one of the league's most poised QBs, but if Allen and the rest of the Vikings great pass-rushers are able to put pressure on him, it might be a turning point against a Saints squad that had to overcome some adversity last week against a surprising Tennessee Titans team.
If Minnesota can put some pressure on, or even wrap up Brees for some stretches of this game, they may be able to pull out an upset.
Put Together Long, Sustained Possessions
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If you're the Minnesota Vikings in this game, the best thing you can do is possess the ball. That's because if you have the ball, Drew Brees doesn't have the ball.
Christian Ponder may have looked pretty rough last week against the Lions, but injuries and lack of weapons around him have both really made the last stretch of this season difficult for the rookie—not to mention the fact that the offensive line seems to just let defenders right through.
Though the Saints have some solid playmakers on defense, they are ranked 27th in the league and are giving up an average of 378.3 yards per game to opposing offenses.
Two weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders, Ponder threw for a season best 381 yards and three touchdowns. Despite turning the ball over in some key situations, Ponder looked pretty impressive while moving the ball against a defense that was literally trying to kill him.
Though the Vikings have now placed two receivers on IR, Ponder still has Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph and Devin Aromashodu who are all emerging as solid targets in their own right.
Oh, and did I mention that he have this one RB returning to his backfield? That might help a little bit as well.
Either way, if Ponder can minimize turnovers—something he's obviously struggled with—and the Vikings can sustain long possessions, the Vikings will be able to keep up on the scoreboard as they peel the time off the clock.
That starts with that one guy I just alluded to.
Run the Football
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Adrian Peterson will finally return from a high-ankle sprain that has kept him sidelined for the last few weeks. The fact that the Vikings have kept their games as close as they have without Peterson is pretty impressive considering how much of this offense is centered around him. It will be a breath of fresh air to finally have No. 28 back on the field.
The return of Peterson means that opposing defenses have to gameplan for him, rather than a rookie QB and a rag-tag group of receivers. His presence alone means that there will be better opportunities for Ponder, Harvin and the rest of the receivers as well.
The Saints are ranked 15th against the run and have given up an average of 4.9 yards per carry to opposing RBs. This same unit has allowed 10 rushing touchdowns this season and an average of 110.1 rushing yards per game.
If Peterson can be the explosive runner that we are all used to, he should be able to blow this Saints D-line wide open and allow the Vikings to sustain some long drives.
Like I said, if the Vikings can hold onto the ball, that means it's not in the hands of Drew Brees—and that could mean a surprise victory for the Vikings.
Yeah, I know. I don't believe me either...
Thanks for reading.