Vikings-Saints: SBN Previews The NFC Conference Championship

It's down to only two in the NFC. This one is for the right to play in Miami and grab a Super Bowl trophy.

The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints both come into the game after blowout wins in the Divisional round. The Vikings had no problem dispatching the Dallas Cowboys, 34-3. The Saints did their own destruction job on the Arizona Cardinals, 45-14. The Saints host the game at the Superdome.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
6:40 PM ET, January 24, 2010
Superdome, New Orleans, LA
TV: FOX

Vikings_medium

Brett Favre proved his wo rth to the Vikings when he dissected a very hot Cowboys defense with precision strikes last week. The 40-year-old signal-caller threw for four TDs and no interceptions. Naturally, he's getting a lot of the praise for leading the Vikes to victory, but make no mistake, the Vikings defense controlled the game by shutting down Dallas' high-powered offense. Ray Edwards and the rest of the Vikings front-four treated the Cowboys line like rag-dolls and put pressure on Tony Romo all game. That's exactly what they'd like to do in New Orleans, force pressure on Drew Brees without resorting to blitzes.

The architect of the Vikings defense is coordinator Leslie Frazier. He's interviewed for several head coaching positions over the last few years, but always misses out. This year, it appears to be no different. Frazier interviewed with the Buffalo Bills head coaching job during the bye week of the playoffs, and by all accounts had a good showing. He topped that off with a beatdown of Dallas, which probably should have enhanced his standing as an NFL coach. Instead, the Bills decided to go with Chan Gailey.

Could the fact that he's still in the playoffs hurt Frazier's chances? From the Daily Norseman:

Frazier's interview apparently went very well.  So strong was Frazier's interview with the Bills, from all accounts, that he was considered to be the proverbial leader in the clubhouse to be the Bills' new coach as soon as Minnesota's season ends.  And one would have thought the performance that his defense put on yesterday in their decimation of the Dallas Cowboys would have strengthened his case even more.

Apparently. . .not so much.

The Bills loss appears to be the Vikings gain.

Oh, and about that running up the score thing last week, the Daily Norseman is having none of that.

There's not one person on that Dallas defense that should bother coming in to collect their paycheck next week.  Not Brooking. . .not DeMarcus Ware (who sacked Favre on the Vikings' third play of the game and spent the rest of the afternoon getting his butt kicked by Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt). . .not Gerald Sensabaugh, who I still don't think is aware that Sidney Rice caught the pass that resulted in his first touchdown.  Not a one.  After spending a week reading their own press clippings, it appeared that the Dallas defense was already looking forward to another trip to New Orleans and couldn't be bothered to take the Vikings seriously.

Saints_medium

After giving up a long TD run on the first play of the game, the New Orleans Saints decided to get serious. They then seriously whipped the Arizona Cardinals in the Superdome. Drew Brees was Drew Brees, and Reggie Bush showed that he might be a force to deal with in the playoffs. But when evaluating the Saints, the defense is always the questionable part of the team. How will they deal with the Vikings?

Adrian Peterson is dangerous but the Vikes running game hasn't been the answer this year, says Canal Street Chronicles.

But can you ignore the Vikings' running game? Isn't it every bit as dangerous as their passing? Well...no, actually. Minnesota ranks a decent 13th in rushing (the Saints, again, are better: they're 6th); but, as I pointed out in a similar situation when reviewing the Vikings' D, that ranking is based on a questionable stat: total yards. A better stat is average yards per rush, and here Minnesota's weakness is exposed: they rank 19th, tied with (among others) Arizona. They rush much more frequently--in fact, they had only one fewer attempt last year than the Saints--but they don't run the ball any more efficiently than the Cardinals do.

So stopping AP isn't the priority, then what is? Of course, get after Farve. Ironically, to do that, you need to contain AP along the way, but you have to force Favre to get uncomfortable.

So the big question is: how DO you stop Favre? Well, Arizona did it, oddly enough, by stopping Peterson: by putting the Vikings in 3rd-and-long situations and then flooding the downfield zones with defenders. Favre could complete passes underneath, but they went nowhere. But they also got good pressure on him, sacking him three times. Carolina was even better: they sacked him four times, and scared Brad Childress so bad he wanted to yank Favre to save his skin. Pittsburgh also pressured Favre relentlessly, sacking him three times and running two turnovers back for scores.

And that seems to be the way to beat Favre: pressure = turnovers. Against Arizona, he threw two interceptions. Against Pittsburgh, he threw an interception and lost a fumble--and both resulted immediately in Steeler scores. Against Carolina, he threw only one interception, but had statistically his second-worst performance of the year.

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