The New Orleans Saints aren't getting a ton of ink because of Aaron Rodgers, the undefeated Packers and some nonsense going on in Denver, but the 2009 Super Bowl champions appear to be enjoying their off-the-radar status.
The pride of the Big Easy got off to a rugged start, dropping its opener to the defending champion Packers and registering three defeats before midseason. Granted, the first L came on the road in front of an amped Lambeau crowd, but the other two losses carry no such mitigating factors—they came to the (now) lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams.
Those squads have a combined six wins through 27 games in 2011. Yikes.
Nevertheless, New Orleans righted the ship and has rattled off five straight wins, including victories over the playoff-relevant Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans. In other words, Team Who Dat is rounding into shape at the perfect time.
Unless, of course, you happen to be their opponents on Sunday, the hapless Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes come in "boasting" a record of 2-11 and simply playing out the string. On paper, Minnesota is ripe for the picking, but the games aren't played on paper as the saying goes.
For the first 30 minutes, the Saints have met with stronger resistance from the de-fanged Purple People Eaters than many anticipated. With five simple adjustments, however, New Orleans should be on its way to another comfortable win:
Take Care of the Ball
Turnovers are simultaneously killers and lifelines—they're killers for obvious reasons, but they're lifelines to inferior teams trying to pull off the upset. So far, that's been the case for the Vikings. Their first points came off a Jimmy Graham fumble, but they've looked almost entirely impotent when left to their own devices.
Protect the rock, and the game is as good as won.
No More Stupid Penalties
Again, good teams rarely get beaten by bad teams. It's generally good teams beating themselves when they drop a game to an inferior opponent...such as when a good team strikes for a 40-yard, six-point bomb only to have it nullified by a holding penalty. New Orleans didn't get flagged a lot in the first half, but that one really hurt.
Sure, the Saints got the touchdown later in the drive, but stop making it harder on yourselves.
Clean up the laundry and enjoy the romp.
Air. It. Out.
The Vikings are vulnerable in most facets of the game, but the one area that could be described as impressive is their run defense. Combine that with the fact that their secondary has been decimated by injury and it makes little sense to keep running at an semi-immovable object—the Minnesota defensive line.
Especially when you have the aerial arsenal that New Orleans does.
Throw it early, throw it often and throw it deep in the second half.
Bend, Don't Break on D
The Saints defense has the reputation for giving up the big play and for making the big play. That's fine and dandy, but against a struggling side like the Minnesota Vikings, big plays are one of the few things that can give it life. That goes double when it's already facing a sizable deficit as the Vikes are.
Methodical drives by the opposition are disheartening to the other side in a close game or when you're trailing, but they take too much time off the clock and lack the "wow" factor that can inspire a comeback.
So let Minnesota dink and dunk down the field, keep the skill players in front of you and that should be that.
Key on Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin; Make Christian Ponder Beat You
Adrian Peterson is arguably the best running back in the NFL and Percy Harvin has emerged as one of its more dangerous wide receivers. On the other hand, Christian Ponder may have a bright future as the franchise's quarterback, but that future ain't here yet.
Until it arrives, Ponder is the obvious weak link so exploit it.
Continue to limit All Day, keep an eye on Harvin and make the rookie QB carry load.
And then celebrate when he cannot.