Don’t tell the Vikings‘ defense about the Saints‘ high-powered offense.
For the second straight meeting, the Vikings tamed the Saints’ offensive beast, holding them well under their average yardage. Last night, the Saints gained a relatively meager 308 total yards, 229 by the pass and 62 by the run.
Unfortunately, the Saints were able to put together two tremendous bursts, one at the start of the game, and one in their first possession of the second half. They closed both drives with touchdowns, and those 14 points were enough to win.
The Saints’ first possession of the first quarter was the only time all night they lived up to their reputation as a high-flying passing offense. The lightning-bolt-like scoring drive took 2 minutes, covering 77 yards in just 5 plays. Drew Brees hit Marques Colston down the middle for 28 yards on the game’s first play, then just a few plays later, rolled right and delivered a 29-yard TD pass to Devery Henderson, who had just burned cornerback Asher Allen down the right side.
At that point, Viking fans were steeling themselves for a long night of watching their cobbled-together secondary get torched by Brees. But, thanks to some Vikings adjustments and, frankly, questionable Saints strategy, the torching never happened.
The Saints’ big mistake in the first half might have been getting too confident in their pass game, and abandoning the run. The Vikings came at them with some zone blitzes, and moved Antoine Winfield inside in the nickel to help take away those big over-the-middle passing plays. The Saints tried coming back with screens and short passes, but the Vikings just blew those up.
At some point, it dawned on Sean Payton that he would need to run to win. So, in the third quarter, the Saints adjusted their attack, and began going straight at the Vikings’ vaunted rush defense with Pierre Thomas. The Saints’ offensive line manned up, and for the space of that drive, dominated the Vikings’ defensive line. Thomas finished off the relentless 11-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Outside of that and the big first quarter drive, the Saints’ offense looked rather ordinary. Drew Brees finished the night 27/36 for only 237 yards, a measure of the Vikings’ success at clamping down on the deep passing game that burned them early. Brees was not helped by his receivers who dropped some passes in key spots. Pierre Thomas finished with a decent night, running 19 times for 71 yards and that one touchdown.
It was not a great numbers night for the Vikings defense – they forced no turnovers and notched only one sack – but it was nevertheless a commendable performance. The Saints seemed poised to take over the game on more than one occasion, but the defense always rose up and kept New Orleans from building on their momentum. Husain Abdullah and Asher Allen did okay under the circumstances, and veteran Lito Sheppard demonstrated that he can still make plays. The tackling was very sure all night, especially from the linebackers.
Jared Allen, who finished the night with 3 tackles and 1 QB hit, summed up the performance after the game: “You’re never encouraged by a loss. But you take the offense that the Saints have and you hold them to 14 points, you have to look at some positive out of that. But we didn’t do enough. I think what we’re all upset about is, our forte is stopping the run and we had opportunities to get off the field and we didn’t do that.”
The defense will only get stronger with the return of Cedric Griffin…and they will need to be strong, because it will likely take a few more games for the offense to get clicking. Assuming it ever gets clicking.