Scouting report: Inside the Saints
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The Minnesota Vikings open the season Thursday night with an instant chance to avenge their loss at New Orleans in last season's NFC Championship game. Sam Monson from ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Saints:
The Saints offense is all about matchup problems. They have four capable wide receivers that they move all over the field, running backs that are threats out of the backfield and solid tight ends. With one of the best interior O-lines in football, they can run the football better than you might think. They run a simple, man-up blocking scheme, which plays to the strengths of their strong guards through the middle. Their interior line will be as tough a test as the Williams Wall will face all season. The key to everything, though, is QB Drew Brees (6-foot, 209 pounds), who has become as good as it gets at finding the open man on any given play.
On defense, the Saints are aggressive, but in 2009, they relied on turnovers to hide some blemishes. They struggle against the run at times, and no member of their interior triangle -- defensive tackles and middle linebacker -- excels in that regard. The Saints experimented with both three- and four-man fronts in '09, and it will be interesting to see if they have settled on one clear defensive scheme in their front seven. On the back end, the Saints run primarily Cover-2 and Cover-1, depending on whether SS Roman Harper (6-1, 200) drops down in the box and leaves the free safety to cover the deep middle of the field. FS Darren Sharper was responsible for the deep middle for them in '09, but with him landing on the PUP list, that role will be taken by Malcolm Jenkins (6-0, 204).
RB Pierre Thomas (5-11, 215) might not be a fantasy stud, but he is an excellent player. Able to run hard between the tackles as well as make serious gains after the catch out of the backfield or on screens, he is good enough that the Vikings linebackers need to maintain their discipline to avoid being gashed for big plays.
Vikings fans will remember CB Tracy Porter (5-11, 186) as the player that picked off that pass from QB Brett Favre in the NFC championship game, but Porter and CB Jabari Greer (5-11, 180) have become one of the league's best cover-corner pairings when healthy. Quarterbacks in 2009 had a QB rating under 60 when throwing into either player's coverage (52.3 for Greer and 56.8 for Porter).
WR Marques Colston (6-4, 225) might be the best known of the Saints receivers, but the two players that might give the Vikings the most trouble are WRs Robert Meachem (6-2, 210) and Lance Moore (5-9, 190). Meachem has the speed and size that the Vikings defensive backs will have trouble matching up with, and Moore excels at working the spaces between zones -- something the Vikings have struggled to defend in the past.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Saints have an extremely strong interior trio of offensive linemen, with Jahri Evans (6-4, 318) and Carl Nicks (6-5, 343) both grading as top-five guards last season. But they are weak around the edge, which will be good news for Vikings DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. LT Jermon Bushrod (6-5, 315) was not the capable player some would suggest last season -- he allowed eight sacks and nine more hits on Brees.
The Saints are potentially very weak against the run, with DT Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 307) failing to play like the surefire prospect he was supposed to be and nobody else on the D-line proving consistently stout. MLB Jonathan Vilma (6-1, 230) is as good as it gets dropping into coverage, but he doesn't do well coming up to stop the run and misses far too many tackles (18 last season, including eight in the playoffs).
The defending champions remain a team that can score at any time on offense, and that is without doubt their strength. On paper, they have made some improvements to a defense that was a liability at times last season, but that may be countered by being unlikely to replicate the turnovers they generated last season.