The Metrodome may still be ringing with echoes of Sunday’s great win over the Dallas Cowboys, but the Minnesota Vikings have moved on and are headed to the Superdome to take on New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship. It will be loud and unfriendly for the Vikes, but they will be ready to battle the number one seed in the NFC. Many expected these two teams to be here before they both hit their December slides, as they regained their mojo in January should put on a nice show. To help sort it out, we brought in Danny Cox, New Orleans Saints Examiner, who has followed the Saints all season and answers some of our questions. Make sure to check out his site, where I answer his questions about the Vikings.
Joe Oberle: Drew Brees really found himself in New Orleans, and the Saints found a leader. How did this come about and what can be to done to stop his quick release –can he be rattled like Tony Romo was last week?
Danny Cox: It all started with Hurricane Katrina and the stupidity of the Miami Dolphins. They could not have made a bigger mistake then passing on Drew Brees simply because of a shoulder injury and thinking Daunte Culpepper could come back from a knee injury quicker and better. Their loss was our gain. With that lack of confidence in Brees and visiting a city ravaged by a natural disaster; he knew that New Orleans is where he was meant to be. He automatically became a leader of this team and a leader in this city. Being just six feet tall has not stopped him from being a giant on the field due to his pocket presence, expertise, talent and ability to make every member of the team better. “Breesus” is not just a clever nickname but something that holds a bit of truth without stepping into the realm of blasphemy.
I’m not going to go the route of veteran experience or anything like that and say that Brees won’t be rattled like Romo because of more years in the league because that is just incredibly overused. Brees will not be rattled because playing under pressure is nothing new for him. I’ll also give up a little secret that is not so much a secret because anyone can watch game tape of the Saints and see it. The offensive line knows how to make a good pocket for Brees and even as it begins to collapse; those two quick steps he takes up into the front of the pocket give him just the right amount of extra time he needs to get rid of the ball. Not to mention that he gets rid of the ball faster than anyone I’ve ever seen behind the center and his accuracy is impeccable along with it.
JO: To me, the Saints looked to be the team that was going to get the undefeated season and then they dropped three games. What happened–was it more than the just the injuries to the defense? And now that they are healthy, are they back to where they were?
DC: The injuries were a huge part of it, but I really think a bit of complacency honestly set in. Dallas came to town and destroyed the Saints for three solid quarters before our boys put up one good quarter of play to end the game with their first loss. Even then they only lost by seven. When the Bucs made a trip into the Dome; it was a first-half beating for Tampa Bay before the complacency hit full force and the Bucs ate it up. Forget the Carolina game because by then it was a “rest the starters because we have nothing else to gain” type of thing. Injuries hurt big time, especially in the secondary but that wasn’t the only reason for the three-game skid so I’m not going to try and make excuses for them.
Now that the playoffs are here and the complacency is gone; health is by far the most important thing needed to make a deep run. The offense was never really dealing with that many injuries because David Thomas filled in decently for Jeremy Shockey and when Pierre Thomas went down, the running back committee took his place nicely. Defense is where they were really hurting. Sedrick Ellis is back plugging up the middle of the line which truly helps against the run because the Saints were being shredded while he was out. Charles Grant will have his place taken nicely by Paul Spicer and Bobby McCray so no big deal there. Nothing though can be more important than having Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter back because their presence in the secondary was obviously missed. That was proven by this past Saturday when Kurt Warner had to deal with pressure up front due to good coverage making him hold onto the ball a lot longer then he hoped to.
JO: As a casual observer, Reggie Bush’s career has seemed up (two punt returns for TDs against the Vikings in one game comes to mind) and down to me, but he was very focused in the Divisional playoffs against Arizona. Has he been everything that Saints fans thought he would be or is the New Orleans backfield too crowded with talent for him to shine?
DC: The word “bust” has been thrown around ever since REG-GIE, REG-GIE arrived in the Crescent City yet never once has it been uttered by me. Bush is not your run-of-the-mill running back and not everyone realized that from the beginning. They all thought he’d come in and be a great compliment to Deuce McAllister and be the “dash” to his “bash.” What they didn’t realize is that he would never work as just a running back. Then Deuce got let go and in stepped Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and now rookie Lynell Hamilton. It does seem awfully crowded but there is a time and a place for every running back on the roster right now. The trio I just mentioned know their jobs and how they are supposed to do them. Everyone else in the league knows it too. Now Reggie Bush? Only he, Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the rest of the Saints’ team know what he is supposed to do…but only Bush knows what he is going to do.
Payton is an offensive guru and he knows how each player on his team should be used including Bush. It finally seems as if he figured out the exact way in which Bush could be used to give this offense the most potency. He isn’t just a running back. He’s a running back, a wide receiver, a blocking back, a punt returner, a kick returner, and the greatest decoy you could ever ask for. Bush’s speed, agility, and elusiveness demands respect so even when he doesn’t get the ball, he’s making a play because he will draw two defenders to him if not more. The guy is a playmaker without even touching the ball so getting him into the game as many times as possible will keep the defense guessing and on their toes.
JO: There is frequent debate in these parts about the merits of the Vikings letting Darren Sharper go. Why is he having the season he is? Also do you think he is more looking forward to picking off Brett Favre or having to tackle Adrian Peterson?
DC: Darren Sharper is by far one of the greatest free agent acquisitions the New Orleans Saints have ever picked up. Drew Brees would of course be the first, but Sharper is a close second. He is having the season he is having for a number of reasons. First of all, the guy still has it. Sharper is 34-years old with 13 years of experience under his belt and he had one of the best seasons of his career in 2009. It is obvious that the Vikings’ thoughts of Sharper being too old to play at a competitive level are way off base and he proved it this season. Secondly he has become the leader of this secondary and he knows that he needs to play at a level which will guide all of the younger guys to their best seasons. Lastly, Drew Brees. Yep, I mentioned earlier that Brees brings out the best in everyone on this team and that includes the defensive side of the ball as well. Leadership goes a long way and it emits in big ways when it comes from a guy like Brees.
As for whether Sharper would rather pick off Favre or tackle Peterson? I don’t think Sharper has any beef with Peterson so there’s no reason for the thrill of taking down the great running back. Who doesn’t want to pick off a pass from Brett Favre? Sharper wants his revenge against the Vikes in the worst way and there will be nothing more satisfying then having him snatch one out of the air from the future Hall Of Famer.
Besides, I’d rather see Sharper get the interception personally for two reasons. The first is that the turnover will give us the ball. HA! The second is that Sharper is a safety. If he’s tackling Adrian Peterson, then that means the running back gained at least 8-10 yards before going down and those are gains I could do without seeing.
JO: How will the Saints plan to stop the Vikings offense that put up 34 points on the tough Dallas defense–will they stack the box to stop AP or focus on rushing Favre and throwing him off his game? How do see the game playing out?
DC: The best way the Saints can stop that Vikings offense is by letting the number one offense in the league go to work. Building a big lead is what helps the Saints’ defense perform at their best. Teams will then abandon the run (as the Cardinals did) and then rely on the pass. It will allow Gregg Williams to drop eight into coverage because the Vikes won’t be able to afford to run if down by a lot. It takes Peterson out of the equation and lets the focus go on Favre then. Williams can also stack the box and rush 7 or 8 against the old man and hope the secondary can cover tight for 3 seconds or knock receivers off their route in the first five so the blitzers can get to Favre. You saw what happened to Arizona. They jumped out with a 70-yard touchdown and before they knew it, the Saints were up 21-7. After that initial long run, the Cards ran it 14 more times for only 31 more yards. Abandon the run, force the pass, play coverage, and protect your lead.
I see this game being much closer though honestly. The Saints and Vikings will trade off scores for a while until the first team makes a mistake and I just have a gut (biased) feeling that it’s going to be Favre making that mistake. But I don’t see it being Sharper that gets his sweet revenge, but someone like Tracy Porter or Roman Harper picking a pass off and turning momentum around to the Saints. Sorry Joe, but there is just no getting past it. It’s going to be a close one, but the Saints get the victory 35-27.
Favre can now ride off into the sunset until the press coverage fades off of him, take a day or two off, and then give Brad Childress a four-month window as to whether he’ll play next year or not.