Cosell exposes flaws in Vikings, Saints

NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell breaks down the Vikings and Saints from a coaches film perspective. Where are the flaws in each team and how can they be exposed by the other team in the NFC Championship Game? Exploiting the matchups likely will be the difference between a Super Bowl berth and the sudden end of the season.

Other than coaching staffs around the league, Greg Cosell has probably studied more tape on the Vikings and Saints throughout this season than anyone else. Shortly after Sunday's action, the senior producer at NFL Films offered his take of the looming NFC Championship game.

Tom Speicher: The Cowboys were a trendy pick to beat the Vikings, but you're not overly surprised by the fact that Minnesota won?

Greg Cosell: No. When I watched the coaches' tape of the Cowboys and Eagles playoff game last week, I didn't think Tony Romo played particularly well, even though they won the game. I thought he was very close to going back to being a chaotic, frenetic player, which is what he essentially is. That is why he is a better-than-average quarterback but not a whole lot more. The Cowboys' O-line is just an average offensive line. I wasn't surprised that Jared Allen would be a huge factor for Minnesota because Flozell Adams is not very good and the offensive line as a whole for the Cowboys isn't very good. I thought the key was the total physical domination by the front four of the Vikings.

TS: The defense's physical domination impressed you more than Minnesota's offensive output?

GC: Yes. Except for a few Brett Favre plays, their offense didn't do a whole lot. It was the same thing with the run game. (Adrian) Peterson ran so hard. He ran about as hard as I've seen a back run and the numbers don't show it. He had maybe two runs for more than five or six yards and each one was just pure Peterson on his own. The score (34-3) makes it look like they played well offensively, but they really didn't. The first touchdown pass to (Sidney) Rice, that was just an unbelievable throw and catch. Favre made some phenomenal individual plays, but I wouldn't say that their offense had a real rhythm or flow or sustaining element to it. They scored a lot of points, but I wouldn't say their offense had a great look to it.

TS: When I did a midseason report card for Viking Update Magazine with you, you warned then that the Vikings wouldn't match up very well with the Saints. Do you still feel that way?

GC: In one respect, they do match up well. In another way, the Vikings don't. They won't match up when the Saints spread them out and go with three wide, at times four wide, because the Vikings don't go very deep at the corner position. In addition, I don't think the Vikings' safeties are that good as cover players. The issue becomes pass rush because both tackles for the Saints, (Jermon) Bushrod and (Jon) Stinchcomb, are below-average tackles. That becomes the issue in this game.

TS: But even if the Vikings do pressure Drew Brees, won't he handle the heat much better than Romo?

GC: Brees is a far superior quarterback to Tony Romo with a great sense of pocket awareness and a great internal clock, so he's not going to stand there or get chaotic and frenetic like Romo. Romo started to reach the point pretty early where he wasn't planting his back foot. He was just dropping back and taking off. But that's Romo. Brees won't be that guy. The key is getting pressure on Brees early. If you close down the pocket early in the game, even great quarterbacks like him will speed up their tempo a little bit. That's just the way it is. Nobody likes to get hit.

TS: Should the Vikings rely more on the blitz to get that early pressure?

GC: The Vikings are not a high percentage blitz defense. I don't think they are going to change their M.O. I don't think they can blitz Brees a lot. I don't think they're going to become the Jets this week. That's not the way they play. They can't do that a lot because their corners can't hold up. I think they need pressure without sacrificing coverage. To me, that's the critical premise for the Vikings, the need for pressure without sacrificing coverage.

They are going to have to deal with a lot of formations, a lot of personnel looks. A lot of shifts, a lot of motion. How are they going to handle Reggie Bush in the passing game, when he's in the backfield, in the slot, in motion? Jeremy Shockey, how are they going to deal with him when he is split wide, flexed or at the normal tight end position? They are going to have to go through all these things this week and have a plan. You don't just line up. They are going to have to have a plan for all this stuff.

TS: In what area do the Vikings match up well with the Saints?

GC: The Saints had a weakness all year long, which was exposed on the first play of the Cardinals game (a Tim Hightower 70-yard touchdown dash). They struggle to stop the run, particularly the interior of their defense struggles with that. Their defensive tackles are not very stout and (Jonathan) Vilma is a runner at linebacker. Vilma needs his tackles to keep him free so he can run to the football.

You would think the Vikings should be able to run the ball. But we know the Vikings' offensive line really isn't that good. There is no room to run for Peterson whatsoever. He hits it up in their hard and he is just smacked.

TS: The Vikings should try to establish the run early?

GC: No. You don't have to establish anything. What you want to do is be successful when you call given plays. The one problem the Vikings have and I think it makes them easier to defend is that there is no real mesh between their run game and their pass game. It's not like they use play-action well. They have running plays and they have passing plays. But they've obviously won a lot of games like that this year without that being an issue.

TS: Many pundits say the Saints have the edge because this game is at the Superdome. What's your take on home-field advantage?

GC: Brett Favre has been in every single environment you can be in. He's been throwing the ball exceptionally well. All you have to do is look at that first touchdown to Rice. If he makes throws like that, it doesn't matter where you play or who you play.

TS: Do you think the Vikings have a legitimate shot to go back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years?

GC: Of course the Vikings can win. There is a flaw somewhere on every team. On any given week that flaw can be exposed. And if that flaw gets exposed then the team can lose. It's as simple as that.

The Saints' flaws with the interior of their defensive line and their offensive tackles can be problematic. I think the burden is on the Vikings defense in this game. Even when the Saints were so-called struggling on offense, they were still scoring 20 points. It's not like people were holding them to seven.

Tom Speicher has been writing "Where are They Now?" features for Viking Update Magazine for the past five years. He is an occasional contributor to Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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