The New Orleans Saints started the 2010 campaign where they left off at the Superdome last season -- with a tight win over the Minnesota Vikings. This time, the Saints came up on the right end of a 14-9 squeaker. Here are a few notes on what we can take away from this contest.
The Vikings were hyper-aware of the Saints' pass pressure. From early in the game and through most of it, Minnesota ran a lot of max protect sets, and multiple tight ends and backs in some interesting setups. Brett Favre(notes) was dumping off on many plays where he would normally take more chances (third-and-long situations), and it definitely seemed that the whole idea behind this one was that Favre getting banged around like he did in the NFC Championship game was completely unacceptable. He was sacked just once, but hit several times and hurries into poor throws on several occasions. Still, the Saints didn't have to bring the house all the time, which should be a concern for Minnesota's offensive line.
The Saints are a running team. They forgot that early on -- Sean Payton called just three running plays in the first half -- and I was about to put out a missing persons report for running back Pierre Thomas(notes) in the first half. But after halftime, Thomas got in the game and wound up with 71 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Late in the game, as the Vikings' front seven started to wear down, Thomas and Reggie Bush(notes) started ripping off longer gains and controlling the clock (they had the ball for 21:07 in the second half). When they went ahead on Thomas' third-quarter score, that forced Favre to play from his heels. Going forward, the Saints need to remember how much their successful running game led them to the Lombardi Trophy.
This should have been a blowout. Were it not for several drops by Saints receivers and two missed field goals by Garrett Hartley(notes), this could have been ugly. The Vikings had some good moments in coverage, but they informed Sean Payton's decision to go after their defensive backfield early and often. Brees completed 27 passes in 36 attempts, but his night could have been even better if guys like Devery Henderson(notes) and Robert Meachem(notes) had caught balls that were right in their hands.
Drew Brees(notes) does the little things well. We're waaaaaaay past overloaded on Favre talk, so I want to give some love to the "other quarterback" in this game. Watch how Brees looks off a safety to one side, rolls out the other way, and makes a great throw on the run. Watch how he runs the hard count. Watch how he throws seam routes against zone coverage -- nobody in the NFL makes that throw any better. Watch how his blood pressure actually seems to drop when pressure's around him. Even the best quarterbacks in the game can get happy feet, but Brees keeps an even keel and knows when to step up, or roll out, or get rid of the ball. And that deep ball of his is better than you may think -- he's no junkballer. What he is is one of the best in the game ... and absolutely the best quarterback on the field for the season opener.
Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) is the next great "move" tight end. When Shiancoe is running a deep post out of the flex, he's now as dangerous as Tony Gonzalez(notes) or Antonio Gates(notes) or any pass-catching tight end you'd care to mention. And until Sidney Rice(notes) comes back from his hip injury, Shiancoe should continue to be Favre's primary target. That's a longstanding thing with #4 -- when he has questions about his receiver corps, he loves to find a tight end or other slot target and beat it to death. This is also how new receiver Greg Camarillo(notes) could be a factor going forward, but Shiancoe is the guy to watch.
The Saints' defensive game plan was excellent. The 14-point total was the lowest for a Saints win in the Sean Payton era, which should be very encouraging to the team -- the great teams can beat good opponents in ugly games. As much as Gregg Williams called crazy blitzes the last time he faced the Vikings, he called for a lot of zone drops and interesting disguises. There's nothing that Favre can't read on a field at this point, but he will balk at zone drops at times. He mentioned it this week as a concern, and it turned out to be.