NFC North: Vikings-Saints
Sorry about the late post. I was catching my breath after one of the most bizarre games in recent memory.
For most of Monday night's affair, the Vikings seemed to be mere bystanders as the Saints rode a roller coaster. New Orleans gave Minnesota a 20-10 lead and then took it back on a pair of punt returns by Reggie Bush and was leading 27-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
But Vikings coach Brad Childress got real dividends from his early-season decision to turn to quarterback Gus Frerotte. The veteran's late-game leadership -- and aggressive attitude -- won the game for the Vikings. Frerotte wasn't perfect Monday night, but there's simply no way former starter Tarvaris Jackson makes either of the fourth quarter's key throws:
- A 33-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian on what had to be a busted route by either Berrian or Aundrae Allison.
- An incomplete pass to Berrian that resulted in a 42-yard pass-interference penalty, putting the Vikings in position for Ryan Longwell's game-winning 30-yard field goal.
Most of this game was about what the Saints did and didn't do. But when it counted the most, Frerotte stepped up and saved the Vikings' season.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Assigning blame and credit in pass coverage is a tricky business in the NFL. The closest defender isn't always responsible, and sometimes a smart adjustment by one player makes another look good.
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Cedric Griffin expects to be tested by Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday night.|
In that context, we can't specify how many completions Minnesota cornerback Cedric Griffin has given up this season. What we can tell you is that opponents are targeting him frequently -- enough to make him the Vikings' fourth-leading tackler, an ominous statistic for an NFL cornerback. Griffin doesn't have an interception this season, has batted away only one pass and faces a stiff challenge Monday night against New Orleans' top-rated passing offense.
Speaking last week in the Vikings' locker room, Griffin acknowledged he is being picked on this season but attributed it to a pair of extenuating factors:
- The presence of veteran Antoine Winfield on the other side of the Vikings' defense. Teams naturally prefer to throw away from Winfield, Griffin said.
- His status as the right cornerback. According to Griffin: "Most teams are right-handed, and the ride side is usually the single-receiver side ... where they run their outs and curls. I love playing right corner because I get a lot of action."
Griffin, of course, has seen a lot of action in part because he hasn't stopped receivers from catching medium-range passes in front of him. Vikings coaches note Griffin has given up only one long pass play, a 58-yard completion to Indianapolis receiver Anthony Gonzalez, and they don't appear unhappy with his performance.
Here's how defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier assessed Griffin's play thus far:
"Some people have caught some passes underneath, some outs and some curls, and with the exception with that one play with [Anthony] Gonzalez, he's done a good job of not allowing big plays over the top of him. That's what we ask him to do in our scheme. As long as he does that and tackles well ... then he'll be fine. There are things that people try to do because Antoine [Winfield] is such a good player on the left side. He's holding his own. You just have to do a good job of tackling and not giving up big plays over the top and we'll be fine."
From our vantage point, a collection of 7-yard receptions can hurt a defense just as much as one long pass. Griffin is a physical player, but it only takes one missed tackle to turn a short pass into a big play. It seems fair to expect opponents to continue targeting him unless he tightens up his coverage enough to make an interception or at least break up passes more consistently.
Griffin doesn't disagree, but said the worst thing he can do is start pressing for an interception.
"You can't be too aggressive out there," Griffin said. "You have to patient, you have to relax and you have to have a lot of confidence. When my time comes ... to get some picks, it's going to come."
Monday night would be a good time for the Vikings.
EDEN PRAIRE, Minn. -- Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian has caught 11 passes this season, good for No. 67 on the NFL's list of leading receivers. His 195 yards puts him 38th in the league. Despite his relatively slow start, Berrian felt obliged Thursday to point out flaws in the pass defense he will face Monday night at the Superdome.
Yes, the New Orleans Saints are giving up almost 250 passing yards per game this season, the fourth-worst mark in the league. The Vikings will have a chance to make some plays, but Berrian seemed awfully confident for a player whose team hasn't had a 300-yard passing game in four years.
Speaking to reporters in the Vikings locker room, Berrian said: "We're going to take advantage of a lot of things we see."
After watching film of the Saints, Berrian noted "there's a lot of big holes" in the Saints defense and isn't too impressed with cornerback Mike McKenzie.
"He's an old veteran" Berrian said. "He's going to be a smart player, but I don't think the skill is there as much as it used to be."
Not sure if McKenzie is an avowed reader of the NFC North blog, but I'm pretty sure those quotes will find their way down to New Orleans before Monday night.