Going into the opening game of the season, which has our beloved New Orleans Saints hosting the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of the 2009 NFC Championship game, much is being made of the Saints' pass rushers going after Brett Favre again. If you remember the game last year, though, the Vikings' offense had no problem moving the ball whatsoever.
What kept the Saints in that game and gave them an opportunity to win in overtime was the five turnovers committed by the Vikings. Some of those were gifts, while others were legitimately aggressive plays made by the defense. This time around, if the Saints want to beat the Vikings again, I believe it's going to take a much better all around defensive effort.
The Saints spent a huge amount of effort focusing on Sidney Rice last year. While he scored a touchdown, the Saints limited him to four catches for 43 yards and largely did a good job with the Vikings' go to receiver. Rice is injured, as many of you know, and won't be playing this time around. This is a good thing for the Saints. That said, the Saints were gashed in the passing game by Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe, as Berrian ended with nine catches for 102 yards and Shiancoe had 4 catches for 83 yards. In addition to that, Favre threw for 310 yards, and Adrian Peterson ran for 122 yards and averaged 4.9 yards a carry. That's a lot of yardage the Saints were giving up.
We know Gregg Williams' defense by now. There will be a big play given up from time to time, and the defense will take a large amount of risks. Those risks will yield some mistakes from both sides. Going into any game, I think it's fair to expect two to three turnovers a game forced by the Saints' defense. Anything less than two in any given week would be deemed a disappointment in Williams' mind. That said, expecting 5 turnovers in any game is unrealistic. The chances that the Saints will see five turnovers again this time around is something I'd put at around 1% to 2% likely. If the Saints aren't going to get five turnovers from the Vikings, they need to settle for giving up less yardage by the bulk.
So what's different this time around for the Saints' defense? There will be three new starters, minimum, come Thursday. Out are Bobby McCray (remember Charles Grant was out for this game last year), Darren Sharper, and Scott Fujita. In are Alex Brown, Malcolm Jenkins and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The rest is the same, though Jonathan Vilma is a question mark coming in due to injury, which may lead to Marvin Mitchell getting the start in the middle. The Vikings, by comparison, will be missing Sidney Rice. Those are all pretty important factors coming into this game, because I think the Saints and Vikings are actually both in slightly worse shape right now from a quality standpoint.
Obviously, whether or not Vilma plays will have a huge impact on the game. Even if he does, and that's not a given at this point, the Saints will have to do a much better job of limiting the big plays and I'm worried they won't be able to. Based on the production of the Vikings' last year, and the new starters coming in that are either inferior in talent or experience, it's going to be dicey for the Saints' defense. How well they play in my mind will ultimately determine the outcome of the game. Hopefully they can bank on Brett Favre's lack of preparation meaning he turns in a rusty performance. But will they be able to keep Adrian Peterson in check?
How well do you expect the defense to perform on Thursday night?