Vikings fans entered Thursday's opener with a few areas of concern, but the team proved mostly up to the task in those areas. Instead, the Vikings showed new areas for fans to nervously twitch over.
In the game of execution vs. expectations, execution was whipped and expectations may have been altered in Week 1.
The Vikings entered their regular-season opener against the New Orleans Saints
looking more like it was the preseason opener on offense. Head coach Brad Childress admitted that "not being on the same page" is akin to nails on the chalkboard for the coaching staff, but they had to be cringing on the sidelines as Gregg Williams
' "Who Dat" defense simply brought a scheme for which the Vikings had no real answer.
Quite simply, the letdown was a convergence of things going wrong. Quarterback Brett Favre
was uncharacteristically inaccurate. He threw behind Greg Lewis
. He threw low for Greg Camarillo
. He threw where Percy Harvin
was supposed to be and wasn't because he cut off a route. And he threw late for Visanthe Shiancoe
, which resulted in an interception. Bernard Berrian
didn't help with another dropped pass.
Thursday's loss wasn't a matter of the Saints having better personnel or being more talented. They simply outplayed the Vikings, although neither team looked like they did last season, and were much more in sync – and it wasn't just Favre's late arrival in the preseason that was the only issue. The easy, like Harvin continuing a crossing route that Childress indicated was about as basic as it gets, went unexecuted. On another play deep down the middle, it appeared that Favre was expecting Harvin to stretch the field past the safety and the second-year receiver cut in front of the defender.
Most of the concerns for Vikings fans entering the game proved to be non-factors.
Adrian Peterson not only didn't fumble despite the Saints going after the ball, he had the ball securely tucked instead of having it carelessly flailing away from his body like he did so many times last year. Just as importantly, he was as patient as ever in his running – slow to line and exploding through, as he likes to say.
The offensive line did a good enough job protecting Favre. The Saints contributed to the protection by backing out of their blitzes far more often than they did in the NFC Championship Game, when they battered and bruised the future Hall of Famer. Center John Sullivan returned to the field after missing the entire preseason and pressure up the middle got to Favre only once.
The paper thin cornerback crew held its own against the league's top-rated passer last year. Drew Brees sure made it look like a blowout coming out of the gates when the Saints went marching down the field in five plays for a game-opening touchdown. After that, however, the secondary that was featuring two of four new starters (three of five newbies) in nickel situations, stood up to the test.
All those factors can have fans viewing the 14-9 loss one of two ways: Either this was a golden opportunity to down the defending Super Bowl champions and invigorate a fan base with high expectations and could be a precursor to a frustrating season, or this could have been an early foreshadowing of a team that will only get better as injured talent returns, shoring up the secondary and smoothing out an offense as a rhythm returns.
Either way, a nervous fan base entering the game emerged with altered expectations, but for different reasons they may have expected.
Even though the Saints became a more balanced offense in the second half, there was one stat that was still warped: The Saints passed every time they were in a meaningful third down. The Saints were held to 3 of 11 conversions on third down, just 27 percent, but the only time they were credited with a third-down rush was when Brees kneeled on the ball at the end of the game.
The initial third down of the game produced a 29-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson on the Saints' first scoring drive. On their second touchdown drive, they never reached third down
Greg Camarillo may have some work to do in getting up to speed with the Vikings' version of the West Coast offense, but here's betting he becomes one of Favre's most reliable targets and starts seeing the ball much more often. He had a 29-yard catch, the most explosive play for the Vikings, but that's typically not his game. However, he's already shown a willingness to go across the middle and scrap for the ball. Look for the Vikings to use him more often in the coming weeks, and he'll get his next action against the team, the Miami Dolphins, that traded him away in the middle of the preseason.
"Yeah, he's still getting up to speed," Childress said. "I would think that you will see more and more. If we had played more snaps, I think you would have seen him more."
More snaps or not, Camarillo should be getting more opportunities and could get looks as punt returner after Berrian muffed one return.
The Vikings surely knew about a Saints' defensive weakness that we pointed out before the game – defending the deep middle. They ranked 28th in the league last year for average gain against in the deep middle – 16.14 yards – but teams only attempted that area of the field an average number of times compared to the other defenses in the NFL. Without Darren Sharper back there, two of the Vikings' three most explosive pass plays came in back-to-back plays to Visanthe Shiancoe – 33 and 20 yards, the second one for their only touchdown – down the middle of the field.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.