Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Saints, Part I

The Saints have overcome a number of injuries to big-time players. How have they been able to survive what they hope is the worst of it? Matthew Postins of explains how New Orleans has put up some big numbers without many of its stars.

TY: Despite not having Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston, the Saints have been averaging 414 yards per game. What's been the key to the production?

Drew Brees. You've probably noticed that the Saints have the No. 1 passing offense in the NFL, averaging nearly 328 yards per game. That's a product of the Saints' anemic running game for the first three weeks of the season. That running game might get a bit better now that Deuce McAllister is back in the mix. But Brees has been the offense the first quarter of this season by necessity. It is amazing, though, that he's done so well without Colston and Shockey and there's no real formula for it, except that Brees is averaging at least 40 attempts per game and utilizing every last weapon the Saints have left, including wide receivers that haven't done much the past two years, like Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem. But in the end its Reggie Bush he's leaning on the most, as the back has 31 receptions in four games.

TY: The Saints appear to be a heavy passing team, with Bush leading the team in rushing (183 yards) and receiving (257). Have they figured out how to best use Bush now and what has been the most effective way teams have defended him?

The best way to limit Bush's effectiveness is to stop him before he gets started. Once Bush is in the open field, he's difficult to corral. So most teams have been using outside defenders to stretch Bush out toward the sideline when he runs the football. It's effective, even though Bush possesses solid cut-back ability. But when he runs the football lately, defenses are cutting those lanes off. Bush is more dangerous as a pass receiver, especially in the slot, where his speed overwhelms most safeties. It's not that he's difficult to bring down. It's that he's difficult to catch and once he gets past a would-be tackler the highlight reels start rolling. With McAllister back, you can expect Bush to settle into the role he had in 2006 as a change-of-pace runner who is utilized in the run and pass games.

TY: How has the loss of Shockey affected the offense?

Shockey went on the shelf as one of the Saints' top receivers, having caught 16 passes for 151 yards, nearly 10 yards per catch. The Saints have never had a weapon that could stretch the middle of the field like Shockey, so they have had fun using him. But the sports hernia may stunt his development in Sean Payton's offense and has the potential to make this year a wash. Payton can find a way to utilize Shockey even if he doesn't have total command of the offense, which he doesn't. But the Saints will miss his ability to stretch the middle of the field, since Billy Miller doesn't possess that ability.

TY: With Deuce McAllister back in the lineup, how will that affect the overall offense?

He has the opportunity to have a big impact. The Saints rushed for more yards last week (105) than they did in any of their other three games. Granted, it was only one more yard than their output in the season opener, but McAllister gets the tough yards that no one else on the roster can get. What the Saints want to do is pound away with McAllister between the tackles to open up running lanes for Bush. That didn't really materialize on Sunday against San Francisco, but there's potential for that to return soon. McAllister seems to be recovering nicely from his first extended duty in a year, so expect to see him get 12-15 carries against Minnesota. If he's productive again, it'll mean more chances for Bush and more headaches for the Vikings.

TY: Despite what would seem like pretty good defensive ends in Will Smith and Charles Grant, the Saints still have the 29th-ranked pass defense. What are the issues there?

The secondary is still a mess, thanks mostly to injuries. It should be noted that the pass rush is on pace for 40 sacks, well above its output a year ago, and that Grant and Smith have combined for five of them. That rush will help. But there's still a revolving door in the secondary. In a perfect world, the Saints would start Mike McKenzie on one side and Randall Gay on the other. But both have missed games due to injury, and that presses youngsters like rookie Tracy Porter and Usama Young into service. Porter has played nicely in spots and had a sack and interception last week. But until the injuries stabilize and McKenzie and Gay get some games under their belt together, the deep routes are still vulnerable.

Matthew Postins is the publisher of on the network and Tim Yotter is the publisher of

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