Countdown: Saints hoping loud crowd can help silence Favre
Minnesota at New Orleans, 6:00 ET (FOX)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: These are two evenly matched teams, and many believe the hometown noise in the Superdome will take the Saints to their first Super Bowl. In fact, the Vikings plan to wear ear plugs, especially the offensive linemen and QB Brett Favre, knowing how loud the dome will be.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams plans to blitz Favre as much as possible, hoping to put him on the ground as his unit did Kurt Warner last weekend. Of course, the big hit on Warner was Bobby McCray’s block when Warner was chasing one of his interceptions.
However, too much blitzing could open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson, who has been a marked man for opposing defenses. Peterson has gone eight straight games without reaching 100 yards, and his longest run during that span was 23 yards against a horrible Giants defense. The Saints allowed 122 yards rushing a game this season and aren’t known as a good tackling team.
But the Saints do feast on turnovers, +11 on the season in the takeaway department; the only problem there: Minnesota was the NFL’s third-best team protecting the ball this season with just 18 turnovers in 17 games.
On offense, New Orleans plans on using an up-tempo style, maybe even going no-huddle occasionally. There is no doubt New Orleans has a better group of receivers than the Cowboys, and Drew Brees wants to exploit a shaky Minnesota secondary.
The Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times last Sunday, but DE Ray Edwards has a sprained knee. Yes, he will start, but he probably won’t last and he won’t be as quick off the ball. Still, the Saints must protect LT Jermon Bushrod from being dominated by Vikings DE Jared Allen. Look for TEs Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas to help against Allen.
When the Saints lost veteran FB Heath Evans in October, they lost their best blocking running back. The Vikings want to force the Saints’ running backs to block by collapsing the middle of the pocket with Kevin and Pat Williams. If that happens, Brees may struggle to find his passing lanes.
To combat the rush, Saints RB Reggie Bush needs to be a factor like he was against the Cardinals. Getting Bush the ball in open spaces is critical to the Saints in their early possessions. In that regard, Brees wants to exploit Minnesota rookie MLB Jasper Brinkley, who is a liability in pass coverage, and also SS Tyrell Johnson.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Saints owner Tom Benson rebuffed all offers to sell his franchise after Hurricane Katrina. When the team was relocated to San Antonio for that one lost season under Jim Haslett, he never once considered staying in Texas and not returning to New Orleans.
On the other hand, Benson hasn’t been a free-spending owner. He was one of seven owners to eliminate the pension plans for coaches and other employees. There are some in the organization who fear he won’t go top shelf if the team advances to the Super Bowl.
The Vikings are considering using a federal bond measure called Build America Bonds from the stimulus package, plus a 2 percent hospitality tax, to help build a new suburban stadium. The team might be presenting a proposal in two weeks to the state legislature.
Vikings WR Percy Harvin (migraines) was reportedly feeling much better the past two days and will play. The Vikings lost their last three road games of the regular season but do love playing indoors on a fast carpet.
Favre intimates to FOX’s Pam Oliver that he knows what he’s doing next year, but doesn’t come out and say definitely that he’s retiring or coming back. The bottom line is he has proven to everyone in the league he can still play at an extremely high level, plus he got his revenge on the Packers by beating them twice. If he wins, you know he will be constantly asked if the Super Bowl will be his last game. I mean, does anyone honestly believe Brett wants to come back and go to minicamps and a full training camp?
The presenters of the George Halas Trophy will be ex-Vikings coach Bud Grant and recently retired (again) RB Deuce McAllister.
The one big advantage in a shootout could be the Vikings’ kickers, Ryan Longwell and punter Chris Kluwe. Saints PK Garrett Hartley missed the only FG longer than 40 yards he attempted during the regular season. Vikings RB Chester Taylor is a free agent this year, and he could earn $5 million on the open market.