The Vikings used an effective mixture of rush and coverage to make life extremely difficult for Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. They are going to need to do the same this weekend at New Orleans, and that figures to be a tall order.
The Saints' Drew Brees is a far more polished quarterback than Romo and he has multiple receiving threats, including Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and tight end Jeremy Shockey. Brees doesn't figure to get rattled if things don't go well early and the fact he is playing at home will be a factor.
With much of the attention devoted to Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen last weekend, left end Ray Edwards had a huge game. He finished with three sacks but also suffered a sprained knee in the third quarter. His status for Sunday's game remains uncertain and if Edwards can't go, that could be a significant blow to the Vikings' depth. Brian Robison would figure to get the start.
The Vikings also might have to spend much of this game in their nickel package, meaning Minnesota might have to give more snaps to cornerback Antoine Winfield (foot) than it would like. Winfield has been playing limited snaps to rest his foot but that has helped keep him effective.
Offensively, the Vikings will try to continue with a mix of run and pass but there is little doubt this has become Brett Favre's show. Favre had four touchdown passes in the Vikings' playoff victory last week, completing 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards.
Nonetheless, Adrian Peterson had 26 carries for only 63 yards as the Vikings kept the Cowboys defense honest by mixing up things. An important piece of Sunday's game for the Vikings will be running to eat up clock and keep the ball out of the Saints' hands.
The Saints used a balanced offensive attack with 34 running plays and 32 pass plays to blow past the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoffs last weekend, but coach Sean Payton might think about throwing it more in the NFC Championship Game against a Minnesota Vikings pass defense that ranked 19th in the regular season. The Saints shook off some late-season offensive woes against the Cardinals and Payton and Drew Brees might be able to exploit some matchups with Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is recovering from a foot injury.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints' 21st-ranked run defense will be challenged by Adrian Peterson. They'll have to keep him under control in order to pressure Brett Favre and force him into some mistakes — which he hasn't done this season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin, who tied for the team lead with nine tackles in the Vikings' victory over Dallas, vs. Saints WR Marques Colston, who led New Orleans with 70 receptions for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. Griffin played very well last Sunday against Miles Austin (four receptions, 34 yards) and will need a repeat performance against a very difficult wide receiver in Colston. Colston uses his 6-foot-4, 225-pound body to get position and box out opposing cornerbacks, and Griffin is going to have to use his 6-foot, 203-pound frame to make sure that doesn't happen when Drew Brees throws the ball his way.
Vikings P Chris Kluwe, who had a standout game against the Cowboys, vs. Saints PR Reggie Bush, who had a punt return for a touchdown against Arizona. The last time the Vikings faced the Saints in October 2008, Bush returned two punts for touchdowns and Vikings coach Brad Childress fumed about the fact that Kluwe failed to punt the ball out of bounds and well away from Bush. You can make sure the message is going to be sent this time that Childress has no interest in seeing Bush return the football. Look for Kluwe to punt it toward the sideline this time around.
Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie, who has been elected to his first Pro Bowl, vs. Saints DRE Will Smith, who tied for fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks this season. McKinnie held his own last Sunday going against Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware and will get another tough test facing Smith. The Vikings likely will get McKinnie some blocking help from a tight end or some chip assistance from a running back or fullback. McKinnie appears to be a far more confident player than he was last month when he struggled mightily against Carolina's Julius Peppers.
Saints LT Jermon Bushrod vs. Vikings RDE Jared Allen. Bushrod, who is filling in for injured Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown, has done an admirable job in going against some top pass-rushing ends this season. But the challenge on Sunday is going to be a big one as he'll be facing Allen, who has 14.5 sacks. The Saints will likely think about giving Bushrod, a first-year starter, some help with a tight end and running back from time to time to shield Drew Brees from Allen.
Saints LCB Jabari Greer vs. Vikings WR Sidney Rice. Greer was having a solid season until he sustained a groin injury at midseason that led to sports hernia surgery. But he's rounding back into form and had a good outing in helping hold Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald down last week. Greer is a former NCAA hurdles champion and his leaping ability could come in handy against the 6-foot-4 Rice, who had 1,312 receiving yards and eight TDs this season. He also shredded the Dallas Cowboys' secondary for 141 yards and three TDs on six catches last week.
Saints front seven vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. In last season's meeting between the two teams, the Saints held Peterson to 32 yards on 21 carries. But Payton said that won't mean anything this time because Gregg Williams is in charge of the Saints' defense rather than Gary Gibbs. No matter who's calling the shots, the Saints will have to do a decent job in keeping Peterson out of his running lanes after he rushed for 1,383 yards and 18 TDs in the regular season.
Vikings-Saints game plan
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