The Vikings held the Saints' Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth to a combined one reception for 11 yards Sunday and, while Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot deserve much of the credit, it was far from a two-man operation.
In every game, defensive coordinators pick out players that they intend to try to take away from a team's offense. At times, it means committing more players to the running game to stop a premium back. At other times, it is trying to take away the deep threats a team throws at you.
When VU looked for this week's installment of Upon Further Review, one factor that was sorely missing in the first two games was evident Sunday vs. the Saints – taking away their top two receiving threats in Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth.
The Vikings mixed their coverages and the two combined for just one reception. Here's how they did it.
On a third-and-7 play, Aaron Brooks takes his first shot at one of his top two wideouts. The Vikings come with a blitz on a pass intended for Stallworth in the flat. Brian Williams comes untouched and forces Brooks to throw before Stallworth has turned around – leading to an incompletion and ending the drive.
With 4:30 remaining, Brooks wants to take a shot deep with Horn, but protection breaks down in the middle and he is forced to scramble – thanks to bracket coverage from Antoine Winfield and Willie Offord.
In the opening minute of the quarter, Brooks is again forced out of the pocket because of a safety blitz. He looks for Horn downfield but opts to throw the ball out of bounds rather than risk an interception – the drive dies at that point.
With under six minutes left in the half, Brooks tries a sideline comebacker to Horn, but, because the pocket is collapsing around him and he is forced to back-pedal, the pass falls incomplete.
On the next play, the design is for a 20-yard pass over the middle in the soft spot of the Cover-2. Brian Williams is again coming on a blitz and makes contact with Brooks as he throws and the pass falls 5 yards in front of Horn.
Midway through the quarter, Brooks throws and 11-yard slant pass perfectly to Horn for a completion – the only pass he will try to get to either of them during the quarter and the only completion they will have all day.
On the opening play of the quarter, Brooks is chased out of the pocket by Kevin Williams and a pass intended for Stallworth becomes a throwaway.
Brooks tries to force a pass to Horn in the end zone that is incomplete, but Ken Irvin, who has underside coverage, is called for pass interference. The Saints will score on the next play.
With a little more than six minutes to play, Brooks rolls out and looks for Horn cutting to the sideline. Antoine Winfield has back contain and, seeing Brooks' intentions, jumps the route and picks off the pass.
In their final series, Brooks tries to throw a bomb to Stallworth, who has single coverage with Fred Smoot. Brooks is under a strong pass rush and lobs the ball off his back foot – throwing it 10 yards beyond both Stallworth and Smoot.
On the next play, a Vikings blitz forces Brooks to throw a pass for Stallworth with a sidearm motion. The pass sails wide of Stallworth and is incomplete.
On the final offensive play for the Saints, Brooks tries to find Horn deep over the middle. But, because of another safety blitz that was bearing down on him, he was forced to throw the ball early and overthrew Horn.
There were many contributing factors that led to the Vikings' shutting down of Horn and Stallworth. It was a combination of solid coverage that forced Brooks to throw to players like Deuce McAllister, Ernie Conwell and Devery Henderson instead of testing Winfield and Smoot and well-time blitzing that consistently forced Brooks to let go of the ball sooner than he needed for his wideouts to finish their routes. Upon Further Review showed the Vikings defense working as a unit – from the front line creating a push, linebackers, safeties and nickel backs blitzing and Winfield and Smoot standing their ground – to get the Vikings their first win of the season.