It's time for the shoe to go on the other foot and see if it fits.
All season the Vikings have been able to use the home-field advantage at the Metrodome to their own advantage. They were the only team in the NFL to go unbeaten at home and, in some part, a portion of that was due to the deafening noise that the Metrodome crowd can generate. It made it difficult if not impossible for opponents to audible or make snap count changes at the line of scrimmage. Teams would routinely have a couple of false starts per game and opposing quarterbacks would have to burn timeouts to prevent delay-of-game penalties when they tried to change things up on the fly.
That advantage will now be in the hands of the New Orleans Saints, who have fans that can get just as loud as those at the Metrodome. Noise will be a factor, to the point that the Vikings have pumped in artificial noise during practice and experimented with having players wear earplugs to try to reduce the impact of the high-decibel vocals of the Saints fans.
But the Vikings aren't putting too much stock in the ability of Saints fans to alter the play of Sunday's game. While the Superdome is sure to be rocking, especially if the Saints have the lead or the game is close, the Vikings are practicing on offense with silent snap counts, hand signals and timing plays to counteract what could be a deafening din in the bayou come Sunday.
However, the team's experience on the road in loud stadiums, including the Superdome, may serve as something of an advantage for them. Kicker Ryan Longwell said last year's Monday night game gave the team a taste of what to expect this Sunday. In that seesaw battle, the fans made it impossible to hear at times, but that memory could actually work in the Vikings' favor this time around.
"I think it was a blessing in disguise to have that game last year on Monday night," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "Although it won't be as loud as it's going to be this week, that Monday night crowd was amped up and was really louder than just a normal Sunday game. We're in that environment and had a lot of bad things happen to us, but we still found a way to win. I think it gives us a little more ease knowing that we were able to handle it last year and the noise didn't keep us from a getting a win that we needed."
The Vikings are no strangers to playing in ear-splitting conditions. Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy said that, too, could play into the Vikings not being as disrupted by the noise levels as teams that aren't so accustomed to it.
"I think if we weren't a dome team, it could affect us more," Kennedy said. "But we've had some great times in our dome this year and I think we'll be able to adjust to the noise. It's just that this time, the noise won't be coming when we (on defense) are on the field. It will be when the offense is on the field."
The onus will be on the offensive line to handle the crowd noise, which will climb as the Vikings break each huddle and prepare for the snap. The linemen also believe their main objective will be to silence the crowd – or at least drop the decibel levels a few notches – by sustaining drives with their running game. Guard Anthony Herrera said that long 10-, 12-, 14-play drives with a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson could go a long way to not only quieting the Superdome crowd but in frustrating the high-octane Saints offense by keeping them on the sidelines.
"Our best defense will be a good offense that keeps their potent offense off the field," Herrera said. "It will be on the running game. We'll have to go out their and chew up some clock to keep their offense off the field. As long as we do that, we should be alright."
The Vikings have seen how opposing offenses have struggled with the noise and are taking steps to prepare for any potential possibility. It could be the loudest environment any of them will ever play in and the preparation they do now will go a long way to adjusting to it and not letting the 12th man become a factor.
"We know it's going to be loud and we're preparing for that," center John Sullivan said. "It's a great atmosphere down there and their fans will be in it, but we're practicing with that in mind. It's time to throw out the record and what we've done at home and on the road. We have to win this one game. That's the only thing that counts."
One advantage all the linemen would agree on is that the Vikings have a wealth of experience with loud stadiums this season. Aside from the home games in which the crowd made difficult to hear, games at Lambeau Field, University of Phoenix Stadium and prime-time road games at Chicago and Carolina have all provided plenty of noise to contend with. They believe they have learned from those experiences and that will serve them well when they venture into the lion's den in New Orleans.
"It's something that we're used to," Loadholt said. "We've played a lot of tough games on the road and (had noise) that messes with snap count. It's going to be loud. We know that. But we've faced it before and we're going to be ready for it."
In the end, the prospect of deafening crowd noise is only making the Vikings work harder on maintaining focus and learning the game plan inside and out. With the expectation that it will be difficult to hear, the players are spending additional time committing the playbook to memory so they know not only their own assignments, but those of the players alongside them. There's no question the Superdome crowd will be a factor Sunday, but, armed with the proper level of concentration and focus, the impact the crowd has on the game can be minimized.
"We've played in a lot of loud games this year and played there (New Orleans) last year," Herrera said. "The volume is going to shoot up a lot. I think the biggest thing is that everyone is going to have their heads in the playbook and know all the plays. That way, communication, if it's not as much, you will still know what each person beside you is doing and it's going to help you execute to do your job better."
This time the noise factor that has served the Vikings so well at home will be on the other side of the field. Will it make a difference? We'll find out Sunday. But the Vikings are convinced that one of the primary home strengths isn't going to be a road weakness.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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