Vikings vs. Saints: Sizing up strengths and weaknesses

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Drew Brees  of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

One of the many things that is intriguing about football is that the game can often be decided by just one facet of the contest, whether it be a team’s running strength verses its opponents weak run defense, or an elite quarterback being able to pick apart a porous secondary.

With that in mind, here are two key factors that could determine who gets the edge in the much-ballyhooed matchup between the Vikings and Saints tonight.

Saints’ strength vs. Vikings’ weakness
Seeing as how Brees usually beats teams with his arm, many people assume that the Saints’ strength is their passing game. But their true strength is in their balance and Sean Payton’s ability to adjust his game plan to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness. Minnesota’s weakness defensively is in its secondary, where injuries have left the unit thin as a whole. Antoine Winfield can certainly hold his own on the left side, but Lito Sheppard is often inconsistent in coverage, which isn’t good considering the two safeties (Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams) had trouble in pass defense last year. Brees knows how to beat teams up the seam and has plenty of weapons to attack the Vikings’ soft secondary. That said, it’s vital that he has enough time to throw or else his timing will be thrown off and Minnesota will be able to keep the game close. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are the strength of the Vikings’ defense and the biggest weakness the Saints have offensively is left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was exposed last year by DeMarcus Ware in a loss to the Cowboys. However, if Brees has time to throw, expect some big plays tonight for New Orleans.

Vikings’ strength vs. Saints’ weakness
It was interesting to watch the Vikings transform from a balanced squad last year to a team that predominantly relied on the pass with Brett Favre under center. But seeing as how Sidney Rice is out and questions remain about Favre’s ankle, the key for Minnesota tonight will be Adrian Peterson. Everyone knows what the Saints’ offense is capable of, which is why Minnesota needs to rely on AP to chew up the clock and keep Drew Brees and Co. on the sidelines. If they can’t establish the run against a soft New Orleans’ run defense (especially at defensive tackle), then don’t expect Favre to be able to attack the Saints’ secondary without his No. 1 wideout from a season ago. Brad Childress’ overall game plan tonight should be to control the tempo on the ground, control the clock and escape New Orleans with a victory.

Game time is set for 8:30PM ET on NBC.

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Will the Vikings be able to win on the road?

Four of the last five times the Vikings have had to pack their bags and play on the road, they’ve lost. That doesn’t bode well for them considering that their most important game of the season will also be played on the road.

Everyone wants to talk about Brett Favre’s magical Super Bowl run, but he and the rest of his team haven’t gotten things done on the road this season. They’re 4-4 away from the Metrodome, but three of those four wins came against the Lions, Browns and Rams in the first five weeks of the season. Those aren’t exactly powerhouse teams they played. Their other road win game against Green Bay in Week 8 when Favre threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns to help Minnesota rack up 38 points.

Speaking of Favre, you have to go back all the way to 1997 to reference the last time he won a road playoff game. He led the Packers to a 23-10 win over the 49ers that year, but he’s gone 0-3 on the road with nine interceptions in the postseason since then.

Granted, football is a team game and Favre wasn’t the only reason his teams have failed on the road in the postseason. Plus, previous outcomes have nothing to do with future results so if the Vikings do lose on Sunday, it won’t be because Favre hasn’t won on the road in the postseason since ’97.

That said, it’s worth noting that Minnesota’s Super Bowl hopes are resting on the fact that they must beat a solid New Orleans team in a hostile environment on Sunday. Toss in the fact that Favre has struggled on the road in the postseason and that the Vikings are 0-3 in their last three games away from the Metrodome and you realize what kind of situation Minnesota is walking into this weekend.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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