Monday, October 06, 2008

A Very Winnable Game

If, while watching the game tonight, you start to feel like you've seen this Saints team play before, don't be surprised--you have. Of course, that was four years ago, and the team you were watching was in Purple. Like the 2004 Vikings, the Saints have a top five offense based on an elite passing game, a bottom ten defense and they play in a dome.

Of course, there are some differences, but the differences are close enough for it to be a fair comparison. Like Daunte Culpepper, Drew Brees does not get sacked easily, though he avoids the rush by getting rid of the ball quickly, rather than being 6'6" 280 (that, my friends, is what I call hard hitting analysis). That doesn't mean a dominant pass rush can't make a huge difference. In games in which Brees is under constant pressure, he tends to make quick decisions that lead to turnovers. It will be up to the Vikings' front four to get in Brees' face, because the Saints are going to spread the field, with lots of quick passes and are able to exploit blitzes easily. They won't be facing more than the five linemen which means they won't have to worry about double teams--they just have to beat their man and get in Brees face. They probably won't sack him that often, but they can knock his passes down and they can knock him down. If they can't do that, Brees will pick the coverage apart.

The Vikings defense does have the luxery of not having to worry about the Saints' ability to run the ball. This won't even be a case of the Vikings' tremendous rush defense being the reason, either, as the Saints' are averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry so far this year and are 22nd in rushing DVOA, with a -5.4%. To put that in context, the Saints have gotten about as much value out of their running game as the Vikings' have gotten out of their passing game.

Of course, when you have the ultimate scat back, like the Saints do, it doesn't matter as much that they can't run the ball. As I wrote on Friday, Reggie Bush is at his most dangerous when he's catching a pass, and with the loss of E.J. Henderson for a month or so, he becomes even more dangerous. Luckily for the Purple, though, the Saints' receiving corps has been ravaged by injuries, and they are missing Jeremy Shockey, David Patton and Marques Colsten. They still have Devery Henderson to attack deep and Lance Moore, who's stepped up and replaced Colsten as Brees' number one option. Moore is 7th in DYAR so far this year and 3rd in DVOA among all wide receivers. Make no mistake--he's a very dangerous weapon and one that Drew Brees is very comfortable using.

When the Vikings' have the ball, they should be able to do quite a bit offensively. The Saints do not have a good defense and are missing nickleback Aaron Glenn and starting defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. Ellis suffered a knee injury against the 49ers last Sunday that will require surgery and the Saints are going to miss him. He had 11 tackles and one sack in the first four games and was the best run stopper on the team. Even with him, however, the Saints were unable to stop the run, and have given up almost 500 yards on the ground on less than 100 carries. Opposing running backs have gained an average of 5.2 yards per carry (which means that the Saints have basically turned every back into Adrian Peterson) and they're 28th in rush defense DVOA, last in adjusted line yards and have given up runs of 10+ yards 15% of the time. And now they don't have their best defensive tackle (and the Vikings are getting Bryant McKinnie back). That's not a good sign for the Saints.

The Saints haven't been able to stop the passing game either. They've been worse than the Purple have been (they're 18th to the Vikings' 14th in DVOA), despite doing a decent job of applying pressure. The Saints' pass rush has been about average, with a 6.8% adjusted sack rate, the 16th best in the NFL (6.9% is the NFL average). That means their secondary has been awful, which isn't too surprising considering that Mike McKenzie has started only one game, and rookie corner back Tracy Porter is the only corner back to start all four games.

The Vikings' should be able to pass on the Saints (even if Bernard Berrian is banged up again). They should be able to run the ball on the Saints. The question is, can the Vikings' defense keep the Saints' passing game from going off for 30 plus points. If the Vikings can limit the Saints to 24 points (their lowest total so far this year), then the offense should be able to match that (or Zygi should just fire Brad Childress after the game). If the Saints score 30+ points, they're going to win the game, barring Adrian Peterson going into Purple Jesus mode (the Vikings have not scored 30+ points without Adrian rushing for 200+ yards or by creating a ton of turnovers).

With the Packers and Bears remaining in sight, the Vikings can get back into the division race with a win tonight. I'm not sure they can do it against a passing game as good as the Saints. I see the Purple dropping the game 31-20 and falling to 1-4. Zygi's going to mad again tonight.


Gellman said...

Personally, I think Peterson can only do so much. Even if he rattles off 150 yards (Enough for him to take over the league lead in RY), I dont think the offense is potent enough for them to counteract Brees throwing for 300+ with 3-4 tds. I think its going to be pretty bad at 34-10.

DC said...


Good preview. I think you nailed it.

I, too, don't think the offence can score nearly enough to beat the Saints. I'm envisioning a 27-16 loss.

However, this is the kind of game the 'Aints have often botched over the years. So there's that.