The Vikings return to Mall of America Field this weekend to take on a red-hot New Orleans Saints squad, which has won its past five games and sits atop the NFC South standings. The Vikings come in having lost their last 5 games, and with 8 of their 11 losses this season having come by 7 points or fewer.
The Vikings and Saints play in different divisions within the NFC, but including this weekend’s matchup they’ve met annually over the past four seasons and their battles have been dramatic. The Vikings out-dueled New Orleans on Monday Night Football in 2008, the Saints got past the Vikings in overtime of the 2009 NFC title game and then the two teams met in prime time to open the 2010 regular season.
This week’s game will kickoff at noon CT on Sunday, and the Vikings will have to play one of their best games of the season if there’s to be any drama at the end of this game. Let’s go over a few quick, general things to know about this year’s Saints squad…
– The Saints boast a fast, physical group of playmakers on defense, but there’s no mistaking the bread and butter of this outfit – it’s an explosive offense that is led by Drew Brees, one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Brees is having perhaps the best season of his career, as he leads the NFL with 4,368 passing yards and boasts a squeaky-clean 32-11 TD-INT ratio. Only two QBs – Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady – have a higher passer rating than Brees’ 105.9 and no QB is completing a higher percentage of his passes than Brees (71.0%).
– Brees’ individual success has led to big numbers for the entire offense. The Saints rank second in the NFL in scoring (31.9 points per game) and first in both total offense (447.8 yards per game) and passing offense (325.2 passing yards per game). New Orleans ranks first in total 1st downs (321), passing 1st downs (217) and 3rd-down conversion percentage (53.7%). Only the Green Bay Packers have a more efficient scoring offense than the Saints, as New Orleans ranks 2nd in both overall scoring efficiency (score on 49.7% of drives) and TD scoring efficiency (score a TD on 31.5% of drives).
– The Saints boast several runners and receivers capable of making plays. Illustrating the versatility of the Saints offense is the fact that the top two receivers in the offense are a TE and a RB. TE Jimmy Graham (80 receptions) and RB Darren Sproles (74 receptions) are the leading receivers and must be accounted for on every snap. Graham leads the club in receiving TDs with 8, while no other player has more than 6 receiving TDs but 6 players have more than 2. The leading WR on the team is Marques Colston, who has 58 receptions for 826 yards and 5 TDs. After Graham, Sproles and Colston, the Saints boast talented pass catchers such as Lance Moore (45 receptions), Robert Meachem (33 receptions) and Devery Henderson (26 receptions).
– Defensively, New Orleans isn’t as prolific. But the Saints do boast several playmakers on defense. We’ll start with the front 7, where DE Will Smith is tied for the team lead in sacks with 6.5. An impact player on the Saints defense who has been a team captain the past 4 years, Smith has 61.5 career sacks and 17 forced fumbles. He is a force both against the run and the pass, and while teams double-team him on many snaps it doesn’t stop him from being a disruptive force. The Saints list DE Turk McBride, NT Aubrayo Franklin and DT Sedrick Ellis as the other 3 starters along the line, but DE Cameron Jordan (Steve Jordan’s son), NT Shaun Rogers and DT Tom Johnson are also steady contributors.
– At the second level of the defense, New Orleans features talented middle LB Jonathan Vilma. A force against the run and the pass, Vilma has been a defensive captain the past 2 years and has led the Saints in tackles the past 3 seasons. On either side of him at LB are a combination of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Will Herring and Scott Shanle.
– In the secondary, the Saints are solid and deep. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are the starting CBs and have combined for 25 passes defensed, 2 INTs and 2 forced fumbles. Roman Harper and Michael Jenkins are the starting safeties. Jenkins is a converted CB who now roams the defense as a safety and is reliable in coverage. Harper ranks among the leaders in tackles this year and he’s tied with Will Smith for the team lead in sacks with 6.5.
– The Saints rank 2nd in scoring offense, and that’s a good thing because their defense ranks just 17th in giving up 22.0 points per game. Only 2 teams allow more passing yards per game (268.0) than the Saints and only 3 teams yield more yards per rush than the Saints (4.9).
– To make up for yardage allowed, the Saints are good on 3rd down. Opponents are converting just 33.1% of their 3rd downs, which is 6th best in the NFL.
We’ll have much more on the Vikings-Saints matchup as the week continues, so stay tuned to vikings.com for comprehensive coverage of your favorite team.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 141 Comments »