NFL Nation: Vikings-Saints 2010 Week 1

Minnesota's offense needs work -- now

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
2:04
AM ET
Brett FavreDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireBrett Favre completed just four passes to his wide receivers in the 14-9 loss to New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS -- For followers of the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday night was a litmus test. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you see potential and get excited? Or do you see too many loose ends and wonder if the magic is gone?

That's the fence I'm sitting on after the Vikings' 14-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Being the cynic I like to be, much of me wants to spew what seems to be obvious: The Vikings' once-explosive offense appeared neutered and in many ways out of synch in what turned out to be a highly winnable game at the Superdome.

After all, before Thursday night, the Saints had never scored so few points in a victory under coach Sean Payton. The output was testament to what was a powerful and inspiring performance by the Vikings' defense. Had the Vikings approached anything close to their 2009 offensive production, they could have won Thursday night in a rout. But what we saw should be concerning to anyone who fears a season-crushing slow start by an offense that spent the summer in flux.

Quarterback Brett Favre uncharacteristically missed open receivers Greg Lewis and Percy Harvin on key third-down plays in the second half. Erstwhile No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian appeared blanketed by a surprise Cover 2 scheme and finished with a single 3-yard catch. Tailback Adrian Peterson ran for 87 bruising yards but never busted anything longer than 14.

In all, the Vikings went three-and-out on five of their 10 possessions. They managed only three plays of longer than 15 yards. Their 253 yards and 12 first downs would have qualified as their second-worst outing last season.

Favre insisted the offense "can be really good this year," but he didn't dispute my primary point. While they offered some glimpses of elite play, the Vikings aren't yet good enough to face a schedule that includes matchups against the Saints, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets before the middle of October.

"I can't say we're hitting on all cylinders like we did in the NFC Championship Game," Favre said. "I'd be lying if I said that. People can attribute that to whatever they want. They can call it rusty. People are going to have their own opinions. I know we're better than what we showed. ... If we were not any good, it would be obvious."

I don't dispute the Vikings can be better than they were Thursday night. But if you're a pessimist, this was your fear all along. You wondered if Favre's late arrival, combined with Harvin's bout with migraines and Sidney Rice's hip surgery, would conspire to stymie the offense. A few more outings like Thursday night's could bury this team before the NFC North race even starts.

I didn't see an incompetent offense Thursday night, but it was definitely still under construction. The Vikings got away with a transition phase in 2009, taking care of inferior opponents in Cleveland and Detroit. But this year, they might not have that luxury.

"I missed on some of those throws," said Favre, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards. "Everything felt fine, but I just threw it a little bit behind a couple of times. The reads that I made or didn't make, you can say in a couple of weeks that will come back or whatever. But this first game means a lot. You have to be ready for the first game. I came in as prepared as I could be. It's obvious we can get a lot better. It's obvious."

On top of their own struggles, the Vikings seemed thrown for a loop by the Saints' decision to limit their normal pressure packages and play a zone Cover 2 defense. Favre estimated the Saints used their maximum blitz package on "two or three plays, tops" and Berrian said the zone defense appeared "way more than anticipated."

"Their defense disrupted our timing a little bit," Berrian said. "I just think the looks that they gave us, we really couldn't adjust to them. I thought they would definitely blitz a lot more in this game."

Said coach Brad Childress: "I have to take my hat off to them. It was set up as a big blitz game. The blitz was very, very infrequent. So they did a nice job with that. There were not a lot of throws to be made far down the field."

Remember, the Vikings morphed into a passing offense last season because teams were ganging up on Peterson and the running game. That means they should have been able to run the ball more effectively and explosively Thursday night. But in a close game, the Vikings still threw more times (27) than they ran (23).

"Probably in some instances we can be a little bit more patient," Childress said. "We like to be able to run the ball."

More than anything, the Vikings don't look like they know what they want to be offensively. Peterson was a workhorse Thursday night, but he really didn't impact the game despite some favorable defensive fronts. Ultimately, I think the Vikings must find some combination in the passing game to find their explosive offensive plays. Thursday night, Favre found tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for consecutive passes of 33 and 20 yards to take a 9-7 halftime lead, but Shiancoe had only two passes thrown his way thereafter and didn't catch a pass in the second half.

Childress suggested that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was holding Shiancoe for much of the game -- "When he didn't maul him, [Shiancoe] ran down the middle for a touchdown," Childress said -- but more generally, what I saw was an offense still finding its way.

That's how the Vikings' offensive development played out after Favre's late 2009 arrival, and it wasn't unexpected this season. But I'm not sure if the Vikings can get away with it for a second consecutive year.

"This is nothing we're going to panic on or get distraught on," Shiancoe said.

I would agree -- if the Vikings had more margin for error. This year, they might not have it.video

Perfection wasn't required for Saints

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
1:31
AM ET
Drew BreesDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireDrew Brees completed 27 of 36 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.
NEW ORLEANS -- They unfurled a Super Bowl championship banner in the Superdome on Thursday night. But did the New Orleans Saints roll out a Super Bowl team?

Well, it sure didn't look like it on first glance, but that might be a bit misleading when you give it a second and third look.

Carve it up however you want, because aside from one impressive opening drive, this wasn’t last year’s formula of Drew Brees throwing darts all day or Gregg Williams’ opportunistic defense scoring points or helping create them or the special teams pulling off miracle plays.

This wasn’t pretty and it sure wasn’t perfect. But this was a win and that really is all that matters. The Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in an NFC Championship Game rematch that looked absolutely nothing like January’s NFC Championship Game, a 31-28 Saints win.

This wasn’t a thrilling shootout between Brees and Brett Favre. Fourteen points would have been a good quarter for Brees most of last season. It simply was good enough this time around.

“At the end of the day, our objective is to win ball games,’’ offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. “We’ll watch the tape and I’m sure we’ll make a ton of corrections. But to go out against a great opponent like the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 and come away with a win, I think that’s a great night.’’

A great night that will always be remembered because the Saints hung a championship banner from the rafters, hosted a parade before the game and rolled out a giant replica of the Lombardi Trophy on a parade float on the field. Schools let kids out early, fans who weren’t even going to the game clustered near the Superdome for hours before the game and it was a night for the ages in New Orleans.

The Saints celebrated their Super Bowl XLIV victory one last time, and now it’s time to focus on Super Bowl XLV. Believe it or not, at 1-0 and in first place in the NFC South, the Saints still have a shot. Correct?

All those who are ready to write off the Saints because they weren’t anywhere near dominant against the Vikings are missing the point by half a mile. Winning may be new in these parts and that’s led to a sudden expectation that the Saints should be perfect every time they play.

Guess what? It simply doesn’t work that way.

“People want us to be perfect all the time and we want to be perfect all the time,’’ cornerback Tracy Porter said. “But this is real life. You can’t be perfect every week. But when you go out there and weather the storm like we did and come away with a win, that’s only going to make you stronger. It’s Week 1 and nobody’s going to be perfect in Week 1. You get better as the season goes on and you win championships by playing your best football in December and January.’’

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Saints banner
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Saints unveiled their championship banner before the start of Thursday's game.
September is the time to grow and it’s fair to say the Saints of Thursday night were not playing at the same level they were the last time they saw the Vikings or when they defeated the Colts in the Super Bowl. It’s probably also fair to say that no NFL team is going to come out this weekend and play better than the Saints were at the end of last season. They were pretty much flawless back in those days -- or were they? Heck, Favre put up a ton of yards on the Saints in the NFC Championship Game and it took some big plays on special teams for the Saints to get by the Colts.

Maybe what has gotten lost in all the celebration since February is that the Saints weren’t perfect all last season. They were just very good and they got better at the right time.

Yeah, Adrian Peterson made the run defense look bad at times Thursday and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe exposed some problems at outside linebacker, where the Saints still are trying to figure out what they’ve got after losing apparent starter Jonathan Casillas with a foot injury in the preseason finale.

Maybe this defense didn’t beat up Favre the way it did in the NFC Championship Game. But the bottom line is Favre completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Those aren’t the type of numbers that are going to shred a defense, and Favre may be one of the best quarterbacks the Saints see all year.

“Brett Favre is Brett Favre,’’ Porter said. “He’s a high-caliber quarterback and they’re a good team. But there’s been a lot of hype about this game for months because of Brett Favre and the whole NFC Championship rematch. There also was a lot of talk about how we really didn’t beat them the last time, that they more or less lost it and we just got lucky. Well, this time, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we won.’’

A very valid point and speaking of points, let’s remember that the Saints allowed only nine points to what’s supposed to be a good offense. Speaking a little more about points, let’s remember that the 14 points scored by the Saints is the fewest they’ve scored in a win since Sean Payton has been the coach.

Add it all up and it comes out to a win for the Saints. Same as last year at this time. The Saints started off with one win, ran the streak to 13 straight before coming down to earth a bit, then got their act together for the postseason.

Not all of last year’s wins were flawless and the fact the Saints didn’t just blow the Vikings out of the Superdome isn’t a sign that this team is suddenly crumbling. It’s a sign that the Saints are where they need to be.

“We just worry about the wins at the end,’’ Payton said. “It’s a good defense and credit them. I’ve been saying all week that this is a different game by two different teams. We can’t draw comparisons, although we’d like to, to that type of game a year ago. So, regardless of how you win them, we are at a spot right now where I think our players expect to win and that’s what is most important.’’

What’s most important from here on out is that the Saints stop looking back at the Super Bowl. They need to look back at what they didn’t do well Thursday night and start fixing it. If they can do that, they might have another Super Bowl to look forward to.

Video: Reggie Bush fights off distractions

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
1:17
AM ET


Reggie Bush talks about the Saints' 14-9 victory over the Vikings and how he was able to block out the distractions over the possible stripping of his Heisman Trophy.

Video: Brett Favre reacts after loss to Saints

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
1:14
AM ET


Vikings quarterback Brett Favre talks about his team's 14-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 14, Vikings 9

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
12:32
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Let's hit some hot spots here:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings fell to 0-1, obviously. But I think this game should relieve some concern about the cloud of drama that hovered over the team all summer. The Vikings withstood the New Orleans Saints' early emotional surge, held a 9-7 halftime lead and really made the Saints work hard to win their home opener.

Big revelation: Receiver Sidney Rice's hip surgery opened up the question: Where would quarterback Brett Favre look in key passing situations? Thursday night's game revealed that, in essence, he's most comfortable with three pass-catchers: tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, receiver Percy Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson. That trio accounted for more than half of Favre's 15 completions. For reasons that must be explained, Favre didn't seem to have much of a connection with erstwhile No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian, who finished with one reception for 3 yards. That's not going to cut it if the Vikings are going to adequately replace Rice.

Injury of note: Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was taken off the field in the fourth quarter with what was reported to be a finger injury. That must have been one major finger injury. His departure forced the Vikings to shift right tackle Phil Loadholt to left tackle and insert Ryan Cook on the right side. Loadholt committed a key holding penalty on his first series in the new position, and Favre had happy feet thereafter.

Critical call: With 14:51 left in the game, Vikings coach Brad Childress challenged an incomplete pass to tight end Jim Kleinsasser on third-and-7. I thought replays clearly showed the ball bounced before Kleinsasser grabbed it. Perhaps Childress was attempting to give his defense some extra time to rest before coming back on the field. Regardless, the Vikings had one less timeout to work with while trying to regain possession at the end of the game.

What's next: The Vikings have nine days to prepare for their next game, the Sept. 19 home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Players probably will have the weekend off.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 14, Vikings 9

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
11:34
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Let's hit some highlights:

What it means: It was only one game and it was by no means pretty. But the Saints got a victory against a quality team. Yes, they have plenty to work on, but they gutted this one out. If there really was a Super Bowl hangover, then this was a game they easily could have lost.

What’s next: It’s not an easy road for the Saints. They have a road trip to San Francisco for a Monday night game and a Week 3 home game with Atlanta. We’re going to know a lot about the Saints’ chances of repeating within the first three weeks.

Tomorrow's Talker: The Saints only ran the ball three times in the first half. They started running a lot in the second half, maybe even too much. The Saints need to remember last year when they had a better formula for balance. They’re a passing team, no doubt, but they must have a healthy dose of the running game to keep defenses honest.

Trending: Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was open all night. That’s not a good sign for the Saints, who have Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow in their division. The loss of outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas for the season is a bigger deal than a lot of people realized. The Saints don’t have any outside linebackers who are really strong in pass coverage.

What I liked: Sean Payton’s ability to be flexible. Yeah, it took him some time to decide if this was a night for the offense to run or pass. But he played it smart in the fourth quarter and protected a lead without taking any dramatic chances.

What I didn't like: The run defense. Yes, Adrian Peterson is a great back, but so are DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Michael Turner. The Saints will face Carolina and Atlanta twice each this season. You can bet John Fox and Mike Smith were taking notes on the New Orleans run defense.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 14, Vikings 9

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
11:30
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Let's hit some hot spots here:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings fell to 0-1, obviously. But I think this game should relieve some concern about the cloud of drama that hovered over the team all summer. The Vikings withstood the New Orleans Saints' early emotional surge, held a 9-7 halftime lead and really made the Saints work hard to win their home opener.

Big revelation: Receiver Sidney Rice's hip surgery opened up the question: Where would quarterback Brett Favre look in key passing situations? Thursday night's game revealed that, in essence, he's most comfortable with three pass-catchers: tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, receiver Percy Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson. That trio accounted for the more than half of Favre's 15 completions. For reasons that must be explained, Favre didn't seem to have much of a connection with erstwhile No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian, who finished with one reception for 3 yards. That's not going to cut it if the Vikings are going to adequately replace Rice.

Injury of note: Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was taken off the field in the fourth quarter with what was reported to be a finger injury. That must have been one major finger injury. His departure forced the Vikings to shift right tackle Phil Loadholt to left tackle and insert Ryan Cook on the right side. Loadholt committed a key holding penalty on his first series in the new position, and Favre had happy feet thereafter.

Critical call: With 14:51 left in the game, Vikings coach Brad Childress challenged an incomplete pass to tight end Jim Kleinsasser on third-and-7. I thought replays clearly showed the ball bounced before Kleinsasser grabbed it. Perhaps Childress was attempting to give his defense some extra time to rest before coming back on the field. Regardless, the Vikings had one less timeout to work with while trying to regain possession at the end of the game.

What's next: The Vikings have nine days to prepare for their next game, the Sept. 19 home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Players probably will have the weekend off.

Countdown Live: Vikings-Saints

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
7:56
PM ET
The NFL season is finally here. Join ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas and Scouts Inc. expert Matt Williamson as they break down the Minnesota Vikings trip to face the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Contribute your thoughts and questions starting at 8 p.m. ET. See you there.

Asher Allen, Husain Abdullah to start

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
7:22
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- I'll be hanging out in our Countdown Live chat room during Thursday night's game, but before and after, you'll see traditional posting here on the blog.

Along those lines, the Minnesota Vikings announced two lineup changes along with their game day inactive list. Asher Allen will start at right cornerback, ahead of Lito Sheppard, who I presume will play in the nickel. Meanwhile, Husain Abdullah will start at strong safety ahead of Tyrell Johnson.

The Allen decision wasn't too surprising, considering that Sheppard was playing with the third-team defense during last week's preseason finale. But if Abdullah saw any time this summer with the Vikings' first-team defense, I missed it. I'm guessing the decision is based on the matchup against New Orleans' pass-happy offense, but I'm not sure.

Abdullah likely will shift to cornerback in dime situations because the Vikings have only three true cornerbacks active. Cedric Griffin, who returned to practice this week as he continues recovering from knee surgery, was deactivated. The Vikings did not activate practice squad cornerback Marcus Sherels, as had been discussed.

Other notable deactivations included rookie tailback Toby Gerhart, meaning Adrian Peterson and Albert Young will carry the load Thursday night. Gerhart has been dealing with a knee injury.

Saints list inactive players

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
7:20
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just announced their starting lineup and their inactives for tonight.

No major surprises. Running back Chris Ivory, defensive back Chris Reis, linebacker Stanley Arnoux, linebacker Danny Clark, offensive lineman Zach Strief, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive end Junior Galette are not active.

Clark’s appearance on the inactive list further confirms the Saints will start Jo-Lonn Dunbar at linebacker. With Clark and Arnoux inactive, the New Orleans linebacker depth after Dunbar, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle is limited to Marvin Mitchell, Anthony Waters and K.C. Asiodu.
NEW ORLEANS -- Greetings from the Superdome press box. I wanted to pass along an interesting note from ESPN’s Ed Werder, who interviewed Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre here in New Orleans.

As you know, Favre has begun a treatment plan of lubricant injections into his surgically-repaired left ankle. Favre told Werder that he has already had two such injections since re-joining the Vikings three weeks ago, and is scheduled to have a third after Thursday night’s game.

Favre, who turns 41 next month, said that his mobility remains limited and that he no longer considers scrambling from the pocket an option. But he believes the surgery and subsequent treatment has left him with enough movement to dodge pass rushers in the pocket. We’ll know soon.

Live from the Superdome

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
5:42
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Score one for the NFC South over the NFC North already.

We’re set up in the Superdome press box and, as I type this, the Minnesota Vikings just began arriving and walking to their locker room. Still no signs of NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert.

There’s a placard for him right next to me in the press box. But I’m guessing Kevin’s carrying Brett Favre's stuff to the locker room and will be here soon enough and helping the quarterback find his rocking chair.

Anyway, all is quiet so far -- at least inside the stadium. I think I see where the Saints are going to hang their Super Bowl banner, but am not completely sure, so I’ll stay quiet on that for the moment.

We’re still almost three hours from kickoff, but stay tuned here. Kevin and I will be bringing you all the pregame news and there should be an announcement popping up on the blog soon about joining us for our in-game chat on Countdown Live.

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