Vikings’ pass rush key to beating Brees, Saints

How does a team beat an opponent that had not been beaten in its last 18 games, that had averaged over 36 points and over 410 yards of total offense a game?

The quick answer to the proposed question above is a potent pass-rush. Along with the last-minute heroics of Eli Manning and David Tyree, that’s how the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. And that’s also how the Vikings can beat the Saints this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and the rest of the Minnesota offense will get a lot of attention heading into this weekend – and rightfully so. Led by Favre and AP, the Vikings have the fifth best overall and the second best scoring offense in the league. But it’ll be the play of Jared Allen and the rest of Minnesota’s pass rush that will be crucial to the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes.

The Vikings trail the Saints in terms of total offense and points scored. New Orleans has the best offense in the NFL, led by quarterback Drew Brees and a plethora of weapons ranging from Reggie Bush to Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey. There’s a reason why the Saints earned the No. 1 seed – they put points on the board, especially at home.

But the Cowboys proved in Week 15 that Brees and the rest of the Saints’ offense could be neutralized by a defense that can pressure the quarterback. In that game, DeMarcus Ware treated Jermon Bushrod like a revolving door to Brees, while racking up two of the Cowboys’ four sacks that night. Brees had limited time to throw and was often swallowed up by Dallas’ pressure.

In their 34-3 win over that same Cowboy team last Sunday, the Vikings compiled six sacks in their best defensive effort of the season. Allen, Chad Greenway and Jimmy Kennedy each had one, while Ray Edwards had three. It’s suffice to say that if Minnesota can get the same effort out of its front seven, then the Vikings will be able to contain Brees and the Saints’ potent offense and maybe earn a victory.

That said, there’s no doubt that Brees and head coach Sean Payton learned from the mistakes the Saints made against Dallas, and have been working on correcting the problem. Bushrod wasn’t the only one that deserved blame for the loss to the Cowboys; Brees never adjusted his protection and Payton could have neutralized Dallas’ aggressiveness by calling more running plays designed to attack the open space vacated by the Cowboys’ pass-rushers.

There’s also little doubt that New Orleans has been studying what Minnesota did to Dallas last Sunday in efforts to gain an edge. If the Saints can avoid the same pitfalls that the Cowboys fell into, then they can take advantage of the Vikings’ aggressiveness and possibly burn Minnesota’s inconsistent secondary for big plays.

While there are certainly other key factors that will play into this battle in the “Big Easy,” there might not be any that hold more importance than how the Saints handle the Vikings’ pass rush.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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