The New Orleans Saints turned in their best defensive performance of the season last weekend, thanks to a particularly effective effort against the run. They’re sure to be challenged in their next game as they try to contain one of the NFL’s top running backs.
Though New Orleans (2-2) has surrendered 1,488 yards - the fifth-highest total in the league - through its first four contests, it has been better against the run, limiting opponents to 122.8 per game.
The Saints held San Francisco to a season-low 312 yards - 91 on the ground - in a 31-17 home victory on Sunday.
A matchup with Minnesota (1-3), though, presents a very different set of challenges because of Peterson, who has established himself as one of the league’s top backs very quickly.
He carried 238 times for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie last season, and is showing no signs of a sophomore slump, ranking second in the NFL with 420 yards, two fewer than Atlanta’s Michael Turner.
Peterson rushed 18 times for 80 yards in a 30-17 loss at Tennessee on Sunday, the second straight game he was held under 100 yards.
“We’ve seen some real good runners both at home and on the road, but this guy is the best we’ve seen to date,” coach Sean Payton told the Saints’ official Web site. “That’s no slight on anyone that we’ve played to date, but there’s something else about him and the guys blocking for him are something else. (Peterson’s) big and strong - he’s exceptional.”
New Orleans will be short-handed on the defensive line, as rookie tackle Sedrick Ellis is out two to four weeks with a right knee injury. Ellis, picked seventh overall in this year’s draft, had started the first four games.
While the Vikings’ offense revolves around Peterson and the run, the Saints usually pin their hopes on quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL’s third-highest rated passer (106.9). New Orleans is averaging a league-best 327.3 passing yards per game.
Brees completed 23 of 35 for 363 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers, connecting twice with Lance Moore and once with rookie Robert Meachem, who had two receptions for a season-best 99 yards.
With those two sidelined, Deuce McAllister helped pick up the slack. He carried 20 times for 73 yards and a touchdown after he was limited to 10 yards on two carries in a loss at Washington on Sept. 14. The team’s all-time leading rusher continues to work his way back after undergoing a second knee operation last fall.
“It was great to see Deuce back in there,” Payton said. “Those were some tough yards that he was getting for us.”
McAllister hasn’t been too successful in his career against Minnesota, totaling 50 carries for 210 yards and three TDs in four games.
The Saints haven’t fared well against the Vikings either, losing 17 of 24 regular-season contests, including six of the last seven.
Playing at home didn’t provide the Saints with much of an advantage last season as they went 3-5 at the Superdome, but they are undefeated in two games there this year.
New Orleans look to remain perfect at home against a Vikings team that has started 1-3 for the second time in three seasons.
Four turnovers were too much for Minnesota to overcome in Sunday’s loss to the Titans.
“Obviously, we have to do a better job of taking care of the football,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “When you spot somebody 21 points on turnovers those are pivotal things. Turnovers is the No. 1 statistic in this business. It’s disappointing.”
Quarterback Gus Frerotte was responsible for one of those takeaways, tossing an interception in what was an otherwise strong performance. He went 25-for-43 for 266 yards, but hurt his left, non-throwing hand late in the fourth quarter.
Backup Tarvaris Jackson, who was replaced by Frerotte as the starter after Minnesota’s 0-2 start, completed one pass for eight yards and was sacked twice. Childress said he plans to stick with Frerotte this week.
“It’s not a death knell for (Jackson). It’s just a step back,” Childress said. “There’s no right or wrong way to raise a quarterback in this league. … He can take a step back and be an aide to Gus. Gus is coming in here and lending that experience and steady hand.”
The Vikings have won their last two visits to New Orleans, including a 38-31 win on Oct. 17, 2004 in their most recent appearance.
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