I just finished watching Kurt Warner carve up the Vikings' defense on NFL Rewind. I had thought the Vikings had a top defense, but it turns out the answer is, they have half of one.
If you look at the stats on NFL.com, you'll see that Minnesota was only the 19th-best pass defense in the NFL last season. Vikes fans would be quick to point out that the Saints are even worse: they're 26th. Here's the deal, though: that stat is based on yards per game.
Let's use a better one, one that predicts the total effectiveness of the passing defense: opponents' passer rating. The Saints are 3rd. They hold opposing quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 68.6. And that's even with our late-season defense giving up career days to people like Josh Freeman. When Greer and Porter were the starters, our pass defense was 1st by this metric. Guess what? Greer and Porter are back.
And the Vikings? They're 27th. They give up an average passer rating of 92.5. To put that in perspective: the Vikings make their opponent look like Kurt Warner (2009 average: 93.2); the Saints make their opponent look like Ryan Fitzpatrick (2009 average: 69.7)
What this means--in all probability--is that all the talk about pass protection is right on target. We don't need to do anything special to defeat the Vikings; we just have to play our game well. With Nicks and Evans controlling the "Williams Wall," and Stinch handling Ray Edwards (or whoever subs for Edwards if he can't go), that leaves Jermon Bushrod against Jared Allen.
The Cardinals had excellent success controlling Allen by using chip blocks by tight ends or running backs, or by passing him off from Jeremy Bridges to Reggie Wells on the inside (Bushrod to Nicks). Know how many sacks Allen had? Zero. Know how many tackles he had? Zero. Nada. Total shutout.
Throughout this entire year, things have worked out for us in almost every way. It may also turn out that the Dallas defeat prepared us perfectly to play this game. Bushrod, at least, now knows what it's like to go up against an elite outside pass rusher, and what it takes to stop him. He may not be up to the job; but at least he won't be surprised. And I'm betting that he's going to be up to the job. And if we stop the pass rush...there's nothing behind it.
My prediction: we score 37 points.