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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