Whether it's Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart, the Vikings need to run the ball, control the clock and pray they don't give Saints QB Drew Brees much time to work with. That's probably wishful thinking since the Vikings have given up 2,035 passing yards and 20 touchdowns since their last interception, which came way back in Week 5.
The Vikings' inability to defend the pass is especially alarming considering they have a good pass rush. DE Jared Allen has a career-high 17½ sacks after three more against the Lions last week. Allen might be able to get some more sacks on Sunday, but Brees gets rid of the ball so quickly, the Vikings are going to have to find a way to avoid some of the massive communication breakdowns in the secondary that they've had the past two weeks.
Of course, keeping the ball away from Brees will help if Peterson is able to return from a high left ankle sprain. He's missed the past three games, but probably could have played last week if the Vikings were in a playoff chase. He is listed as probable, but he might not get the usual 20 carries he usually does.
Rookie QB Christian Ponder also needs to stop talking about avoiding dumb turnovers and actually stop making dumb turnovers. He has seven turnovers in his past two games, including four before being benched in the third quarter last week. Two of his five interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
The Saints will face a Vikings team whose stats don't exactly match its record – especially on defense. The Vikings rank 18th overall in allowing 350.2 yards per game and are ninth in rushing in giving up just 101.4 yards; their weakness is the Saints' strength, the passing game, which would suggest that they'll target a 26th-ranked pass defense that has allowed 248.8 yards a game and 26 touchdowns. Slowing down a pass rush that has 39 sacks will be crucial.
Defensively, the Saints must stop a running game that ranks fourth with 145.6 yards per game despite not having Adrian Peterson for the last three games. But Peterson, who's rushed for 872 yards and a 4.7 average with 11 TDs, will return from an ankle injury Sunday. The Saints are coming off an outing in which they held Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 23 yards on 11 carries, so they hope that carries over to this game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings FS Mistral Raymond and SS Jamarca Sanford, who share in the blame for a pass defense that ranks 26th in the NFL, vs. Saints QB Drew Brees, whose 4,368 passing yards are the most through 13 games of a season in NFL history. Raymond, a rookie sixth-round draft pick, is a talented but raw player who will be getting his third start after beginning the year as a third-stringer. Sanford is the regular starting strong safety, but has had a terrible season other than his two-interception game in a win over the Cardinals in Week 5. Whoever starts at cornerback will be overmatched by the Saints receivers. So those players will need the front four to rush well and the safeties to provide help over the top. Time and again, Vikings safeties have been out of position and/or failed to make a tackle this season. If that happens again Sunday, Brees and the league's top passing attack could throw for over 500 yards.
Vikings SLB Chad Greenway and MLB E.J. Henderson, who are 1-2 on the team in tackles with a combined 227, vs. Saints TE Jimmy Graham, who leads the Saints in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,101) and touchdowns (eight). Tight ends tend to run free over the middle and up the seams against the Vikings' current version of the Tampa-2 defense. Even with a good pass rush, the Vikings still give quarterbacks big windows to throw into between the linebackers, corners and safeties. Greenway and Henderson are going to have to run with the 6-7, 265-pound Graham to keep him from getting wide open.
Saints front seven vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. The Saints could have their hands full as Peterson has been cooling his heels for the last three games and should be ready to break out again. The Saints have had mixed success with Peterson, but he's had his moments with 209 yards on 44 carries in two games against Gregg Williams' defense.
Saints defense and special teams vs. Vikings WR/RB/KR Percy Harvin. Harvin is the only other bona fide offensive threat for the Vikings. He has 69 catches for 779 yards and five TDs and averages 7.0 yards per carry on 294 rushing yards, so keeping tabs on him all over the field will be a chore for the Saints' defenders. Harvin also averages 37.1 yards per kickoff return, although he hasn't done much of it lately because of Peterson's injury.
Saints LT Jermon Bushrod vs. Vikings RDE Jared Allen. Bushrod has had a pretty good season even though he struggled with the pass rush in a loss to the St. Louis Rams. The Saints have allowed just four sacks during their five-game winning streak, but Allen will show a variety of moves that Bushrod will have to contend with to keep Drew Brees upright.
Vikings-Saints game plan
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