The New Orleans Saints have done plenty of good things this season — Drew Brees is racking up the passing yards at a historic rate, and new franchise marks in scoring and total yards will likely be set — but for all the good things the Saints have also looked bad at times.
Not to beat a dead horse, but a prime example was when the Saints were dominated by a win less Rams team in week 8 at the Edwards Jones Dome.
St. Louis had a season-high six sacks — three by Chris Long — after entering the game with just 11 total sacks for the season.
The pressure they were able to generate was a big reason they were able to win the game, however the Saints defense let Rams running back Steven Jackson find the end zone twice while gashing them for a 6.4 yards per carry average and 159 total rushing yards.
New Orleans was criticized for sleeping on a presumed inferior Rams team, but it could have been just the slap in the face needed as the Saints have since won their last five games, including two divisional, secured a playoff berth, and will likely win the NFC South.
Yet again the Saints are set to face another perceived inferior team in the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow, and while this isn’t the Brett Favre lead team New Orleans battled in seasons past, they still have a roster full of stars that could cause the Saints trouble.
On defense there is defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the NFL in sacks with 17.5.
Allen in having pro bowl season to be sure and his “hatred” of the Saints is well known, adding fuel to his desire to get to Drew Brees early and often.
But Allen will have to battle with Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who is by all accounts having just as stellar a season as Allen and perhaps the best of his career.
Bushrod is rated as the 14th best tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus.
He has the sixth highest pass block rating, committed only five penalties, and surrendered only two sacks over the Saints last thirteen games.
He has 787 receiving yards with five touchdowns as a receiver, but more impressively has generated 541 yards after the catch.
New Orleans pass defense has been susceptible to the big pass play so they must account for Harvin wherever he lines up on the field.
If the Saints defense whiff’s trying to tackle him in the open field he has the speed to take it to the house.
Harvin is also the owner of the NFL’s third longest kick return of the season of 104 yards.
He has 445 kick return yards on twelve attempts which means he is averaging 37.1 yards per return.
To put that in retrospect the Saints stellar return man Darren Sproles has 813 kick return yards, but is averaging 26.2 yards per return.
Adrian Peterson has missed the last three games while recovering from a high ankle sprain and ligament damage.
Even though he will not be 100 percent he still represents a challenge for the Saints defense.
Peterson has 827 rushing yards and eleven touchdowns this season.
If he can get going against New Orleans then the play actions game could open up for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
The Saint run defense has stiffened up since their bye week as they have only surrendered on average 73 yards a game rushing over the last three games, and keeping Peterson in check will be a priority throughout the game.
But it will be a delicate balancing act for the Saints defense to not over commit to the run and ignore Harvin, while not placing too much attention on Harvin and relinquishing big running lanes to Peterson.
Working in the Saints favor is that their offense should find early success against Minnesota’s terrible secondary. If they can get a big lead early it will force the Vikings to air it out in a game of catch-up.
That could end up favoring the Saints defense as they may be able to force Ponder into errant throws into coverage, and that could lead to the turnover that defensive coordinator Gregg William covets.