Minnesota Vikings Chat asked Hans, a regular writer/contributor for the New Orleans Saints blog, Canal Street Chronicles, to answer five questions regarding last year’s Super Bowl champions. I did the same for the Canal Street Chronicles, read my answers here.
It’s no secret that the Saints’ defensive gameplan for last year’s NFC Championship game was to get Brett Favre off his game. The biggest question all Vikings fans want to know going into this game is will Gregg Williams unleash the dogs to go after Favre again?
In a word, yes. In two words, yes and yes. Exotic blitzes and creative pressure packages are a Gregg Williams specialty, and it will be no different this time. This pressure causes mistakes by the opposing team, which then cause takeaways and sacks, which the Saints need because their defense is not an overpowering unit that can completely shut down an offense. The Saints will give up lots of yards, but hope to get timely takeaways to put the ball back in the hands of their high-powered offense.
How is this year’s Saints squad different from the team that won the Super Bowl last year?
Not too different in personnel, actually. The Saints coaching staff and almost all of their starters are back. The Saints lost three starters – OLB Scott Fujita and RB Mike Bell went to Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively, while the team cut DE Charles Grant.
However, they added Alex Brown from the Bears and Jimmy Wilkerson from Tampa Bay to bolster the defensive line and should more than adequately replace Grant, who had been injury-prone and inconsistent in his last few years.
Bell was one of three main running backs (along with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush) last year, and there are some question marks as to what will happen to his carries. Some younger guys from the team’s roster and practice squad last year who were showing promise in camp (Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill) fell to season-ending injuries while Chris Ivory, an undrafted free agent who was looking good in pre-season, is out for awhile with an MCL strain/tear. That leaves us with DeShawn Wynn, who the Saints brought in late as the No. 3 running back.
Replacing Fujita at OLB has also proven challenging. Jonathan Casillas, a rookie from last year, was elevated to the starting role in preseason but he was just placed on IR over the weekend with a foot injury. The Saints have scrambled a bit to plug that gap by signing former Texans linebacker, Danny Clark.
What are the Saints weaknesses this year?
Three rather large weaknesses are the defensive line, linebackers and kick return coverage units.
The Saints front seven simply do not have the ability to bow up and impose their will on anyone, and often give up plenty of yards and points. While they have some skilled players there (Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis), the talent level is not high enough overall to shut down opposing offenses with regularity.
The Saints special teams have been been giving up more and more return yards in each of the last few years, and that trend has continued in the pre-season. The word from the team is that it’s not a schematic problem, but simply a matter of needing the players to follow their assignments and playing smartly.
What rookie and/or new players should Vikings fans watch out for on Thursday?
With our roster remaining mostly intact, we drafted for depth and future development, so we’re not expecting much rookie impact, but here are some names to remember:
Patrick Robinson is their first-rounder, a speedy CB who will see some time in nickel or dime packages.
Jimmy Graham is a 3rd-round tight end prospect with great potential – he’s a physical specimen that has flashed at times in training camp, but he’s rough, as he only played one year of college football (focusing mostly on basketball at the U. of Miami).
Junior Galette is an undrafted rookie who has impressed many folks and earned a roster spot with high-energy, drive and playmaking ability at DE.
Any signs of a “Super Bowl hangover”?
It’s hard to say. All the players and coaches seem to be saying all the right things about forgetting the past, staying hungry, focusing on the present, and doing what it takes to win. We’ll certainly get our first look at how that’s actually going for us on Thursday Night.