Jan 20, 2010
As some readers may know, I grew up a Viking fan. While my fandom has been diminished probably 70% over the last 10 years due to the nature of my business, there is still some left, and I was pretty amped up for this past weekend’s Divisional game against the Cowboys. Needless to say, I was pleased with the results, and now I’m heading to New Orleans this weekend to see the NFC title game in person. I’m obviously going for the big game, but I must admit the food and the partying down in the Big Easy is also a major attraction. If this game was in Atlanta, for example, I wouldn’t be going. So even if the Vikings lose, I’m going to be okay with the trip.
I’m usually pretty good picking playoff games, but this year my clarity in the post-season has not been very good. I picked the Cowboys to beat my Vikings last weekend, for example. However, there’s no better way to gain clarity for an NFL matchup then to study coaches tape, and that’s exactly what I did yesterday with the rest of the FantasyGuru.com guys at NFL Films.
Now, we didn’t see a ton of Viking and Saint game film, but I did observe the Viking and Saint offense with our Greg Cosell along with Ron Jaworski and former Lion GM Matt Millen, and we talked about the game a lot. Cosell’s obviously the man, and I’ve known Jaws for 10 years, and he’s fantastic, but Millen was awesome as well. I really didn’t know what to expect when he walked into the (small) room, but we all loved the guy, and he shared some great stories. He was very funny, and I guess because we were in that exclusive company, he curiously listened to our points and respected our opinions. In addition to these three great football minds, also in the room and watching game film with us all day was an NFL defensive coach, and he was also incredibly informative.
And basically, the consensus in the room was that the Vikings don’t have much of a chance winning the game.
I can totally understand that opinion, and here are some tidbits, most of them picked up yesterday, that would support that notion.
- As impressive as the victory was against Dallas, the Vikings really made only three plays. Otherwise, they still didn’t run well at all and the Cowboy defense played very well. They whipped them up front, and they covered very well on the back end. The Vikings won the game on defense, and there’s a massive difference between Tony Romo and Drew Brees.
- It’s not a huge problem this week against an average Saint defensive front and pass rush, but it certainly doesn’t help: the Viking OL and blocking up front is brutal. Let’s start with the TEs because they were horrendous against the Cowboys. Starter Vishante Shiancoe has never been known as a good blocker, and that reputation was not helped this past weekend. But it was backup Jeff Dugan who really struggled. He was terrible and caused several plays to get totally shut down. OLB Anthony Spencer blew up play after play this past Sunday, due mainly to the terrible blocking on the right side of the Viking line, including RT Phil Loadholt. TE/H-back Jim Kleinsasser was a little better and had some good blocks, but he also screwed up a few times as well. The good news is that LT Bryant McKinnie did play well, but LG Steve Hutchinson is average at best, and C John Sullivan is also mediocre and gets pushed around easily.
- Here’s the problem with that OL: Minnesota can certainly win on the legs of RB Adrian Peterson, but I just can’t see a dominating performance behind that line. Peterson should have a good game, and the Saints can definitely be run on, but based on what they showed all season and watching this OL in action via the coaches tape, I find it hard to believe that Peterson will get to the second level often enough to come through with a huge game. The guy’s nickname is “All Day” and if they can give him 25-30 carries they’d have a real shot, but it’s been painful watching him run behind this mediocre (at best) line all year. And in Week 19 of the season, I just can’t see him dominating like the Vikings need him to if they’re to pull this one out.
- The loss of LB E.J. Henderson is absolutely paramount. If I had to name one 4-3 MLB who would best defend the Saints and their videogame offense, I’d chose Henderson, who has excellent speed and is a major playmaker. His replacement, Jasper Brinkley, is a MAJOR liability against the Saints. He’s lost in coverage and while he can be stout against the run, he overruns plays and is simply not ready or good enough to handle this incredible responsibility. The Vikes screwed up not finding a vet who can play in the middle in the event Henderson suffered a serious injury.
- It’s true you can never discount the Favre factor, but the Saint secondary can handle his wideouts, especially Bernard Berrian, who simply isn’t a very good player. He’s a one-trick pony, so while you can never rule out a big play, I have little confidence in him. Early in the season, the Saints had arguably the best CB tandem in the NFC, and corners Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer are back, plus Darren Sharper, a Viking in 2008, is a major asset for the Saints.
- The Saints will look to spread the Viking secondary out, and unless the Viking pass rush dominates again, Brees should carve them up. Brinkley is a major problem in coverage, and the Viking safeties are not good at all in coverage. Their corners played well last week, but it’s not a good group overall, and it’s not a deep group. You have to give the Viking DL a chance to harass Brees, who does have serious protection issues on the edges (especially the left side), but it’s such an advantage for their offense playing in the raucous Superdome, and it’s a disadvantage for the Viking DL. That advantage may ultimately offset the advantage the Viking D-Line has against the Saint OL. Speaking of that D-Line, while they were great last week, they didn’t have a great year.
Obviously, it’s NFL football and anything can happen. But based on what I’ve seen from these two teams all year, the Vikings need to play a perfect game, and the Saints need to slip up at least a few times.
I’m not seeing it, and I really hope I’m wrong.