Breaking down the tape from the Vikings' loss to the Saints
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 14-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses.
With the exception of two gorgeous throws to TE Visanthe Shiancoe up the seam, Brett Favre played nothing like a veteran prepared to lead another playoff push. He took a bad chance on 1-step option route WR Percy Harvin couldn't handle, handed an ugly interception to MLB Jonathan Vilma and missed WR Greg Lewis, TE Jimmy Kleinsasser and WR Greg Camarillo on third-down plays to squelch drives in the second half. Saints DC Gregg Williams shocked the Vikings by consistently rushing three in the early going, but he eventually fell into his usual pattern and Favre missed seven of his last eight passes against the blitz, including two near-interceptions. The Vikings should expect more for $1 million a game.
Running backs (3½)
HB Adrian Peterson (44 snaps) fought for every one of his 87 rushing yards on 19 carries, which would have been 104 on 20 if not for a holding penalty. He willed his way to a first down on third-and-1, broke two tackles on the 17-yard burst that was called back, slipped out of CB Jabari Greer's grasp at the line for a 13-yard gain and held onto the ball throughout. It was a fortuitous start even if Peterson didn't break a big one. Backup HB Albert Young (11) chopped down Vilma on a blitz to set up a big play to Shiancoe and went nowhere on three carries (2 yards). He's just not much with the ball in his hands. FB Naufahu Tahi (17) was up and down -- LB Scott Shanle twice shedded his lead blocks on third-and-short.
With Sidney Rice out, Harvin (46 snaps) should be Favre's best weapon, and at times it looked like they weren't even working from the same playbook. Harvin stopped two routes short, caught one pass for 12 yards and was at his best running through Greer's tackle to convert third-and-1 on an end around. Trying to turn him into an outside receiver might be a mistake with everything he can do in the slot and backfield. Bernard Berrian (47) should have caught Favre's pass to his outside shoulder on third-and-9 in the red zone and finished with one catch, a slant for 3 yards. That won't cut it. Muffing one punt and stumbling after catching another might have Berrian out of that role sooner than later. Lewis (19) got most of the action outside in three-wide sets and caught the only on-target pass his way for 12 yards. Camarillo (seven) was startlingly unused and probably earned himself a bigger role next week with his 29-yard catch and run on a corner.
Tight ends (3)
Shiancoe (46) was Favre's favorite target, catching four of the seven balls thrown his way for 76 yards, including a 33-yarder against Shanle and a 20-yard touchdown over Vilma on consecutive plays. He also took consecutive penalties for holding and pass interference that killed the Vikings' second drive and didn't catch a ball in the second half. For the most part, Shiancoe's blocking was solid. Kleinsasser (32) was slow off the ball all day but consistently got movement anyway. Jeff Dugan (six) had one catch and it was a big one, going for 8 yards in the left flat on third-and-2.
Offensive linemen (2½)
C John Sullivan had his hands full in his first game action since his training-camp-calf injury. He couldn't move NT Remi Ayodele or DT Sedrick Ellis on running plays, twice missed Vilma at the second level, got walked back several times in pass protection, allowed two QB hits and inadvertently sling-shotted Ellis into Favre for a sack while trying to set up a screen to Shiancoe. For as big as Sullivan is, he's just not physical. LG Steve Hutchinson was the most consistent up front. RG Anthony Herrera is a scrapper whose aggression in an asset when it's working -- look no further than the zone-right play in the second quarter when Kleinsasser and RT Phil Loadholt didn't move on the snap, so Herrera just used them like battering rams to help Peterson get 4 yards. Ellis flattened Herrera on a Young run for minus-1, and DL Anthony Hargrove overpowered him to allow Ayodele to block an extra point. LT Bryant McKinnie was OK until a dislocated finger knocked him out for the final series. Loadholt moved over, took a holding penalty on DE Will Smith that short-circuited the drive and allowed the last two of four pressures. He also had a facemask penalty at right tackle. Ryan Cook took Loadholt's place for those final seven snaps and held up well.
Defensive linemen (3½)
LE Ray Edwards (57 snaps) gave Saints RT Jon Stinchcomb trouble all night. He hit QB Drew Brees once, logged three other pressures, drew a holding call, tackled Brees in the backfield on a naked bootleg and disrupted multiple running plays in the backfield. Edwards did whiff on RB Reggie Bush's pivot in zone coverage, but it's tough to expect him to make that play. By comparison, RE Jared Allen (59) was quiet -- he was credited with four tackles (three solo) and didn't hit Brees until the game's final drive off a late counter against LT Jermon Bushrod. The Saints chipped Allen on the game's first play and limited his options by sending running backs and tight ends out of the backfield to his side. NT Pat Williams (37) and UT Kevin Williams (59) had their hands full inside against the Saints' talented guards. Pat Williams was at his best playing off C Jonathon Goodwin, who had no chance of stopping his anchor one-on-one. Kevin Williams drew a holding call on RG Jahri Evans but that was about it. He was credited with one assist and couldn't wrap up RB Pierre Thomas in the backfield on a 1-yard TD plunge. DTs Letroy Guion (18) and Fred Evans (nine) spelled the Williamses inside; Evans got destroyed on Thomas' touchdown. DE Jayme Mitchell (seven) split a sack with SLB Chad Greenway when Stinchcomb and Evans failed to sort out a zone blitz. DE Brian Robison (six) picked up the scraps.
Brees targeted MLB E.J. Henderson (59 snaps) on his first two passes and completed them both, to WR Marques Colston for 28 yards up the seam and to WR Lance Moore for 12 on a drag. In his first full game since sustaining a gruesome fractured femur Dec. 6, Henderson was at his best shooting gaps and playing downhill. He still doesn't look totally comfortable moving laterally and changing directions, but that will come. Henderson's nine tackles (eight solo) were second only to Greenway (63), who had 12 (nine solo) and always seemed to be around the ball. WLB Ben Leber (34) only took four snaps in nickel but nonetheless made an impact in pass coverage, who sniffed out a screen for minus-2, broke up a square out for TE David Thomas and dumped WR Robert Meachem immediately on a third-down checkdown. Leber had the best chance to stop Thomas from getting the Saints' final first down but couldn't make the play. Heath Farwell led the coverage units with two tackles.
Defensive backs (3)
Making a surprise start outside, CB Asher Allen got beat twice in two possessions by WR Devery Henderson -- once on an out Henderson turned upfield for a 29-yard touchdown, the other on a stutter-go that Brees overthrew. Allen also was in coverage on a pass Meachem dropped in the end zone and couldn't hang onto an interception. But the second-year flashed some potential as well, recovering to break up a pass to Colston and proving a fearless tackler who made six stops (four solo). CB Antoine Winfield was flying around the field, making nine tackles (seven solo) and answered any remaining questions about whether he's back from last year's foot injury. Lito Sheppard also held up well playing right corner in the nickel -- bumping Allen to left corner and Winfield to the slot -- with three solo tackles and three passes defended. Sheppard can't play man anymore, but his instincts still show up in zone. Depth remains a huge concern, especially because Allen and Sheppard both have weaknesses on the edge. SS Husain Abdullah tackled well in his first NFL start (four solo). He appeared a step late at times with help over the top, as did FS Madieu Williams. All in all, holding the Saints to 237 passing yards and 14 points with this makeshift group is more than respectable. Tyrell Johnson played one snap in the goal line defense and got wiped out by Jahri Evans.
P Chris Kluwe was superb. His averages on seven punts were 44.3 yards gross, 43.3 yards net and 4.44 seconds of hang time. He put two inside the 20 and even bailed out a rare one-hopper from LS Cullen Loeffler with a 32-yard, 4-second boot that Erin Henderson downed at the Saints 12. PK Ryan Longwell drilled a 41-yard field goal. The blocked extra point wasn't his fault. Two of his three kickoffs were at the 7- and 6-yard lines, respectively, both with 4.2 seconds of hang time.