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Saints-Vikings Breakdown

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Posted: Thursday January 04, 2001 2:15 PM
Updated: Friday January 05, 2001 8:53 PM

CNNSI.com NFL analyst Pat Kirwan breaks down the Divisional weekend games and explains which team has the edge.

Matchups: Offense | Defense | Special Teams | Coaching

OFFENSE
Saints   Vikings
In his first career playoff start last week, Aaron Brooks played like a veteran. His poise in the pocket and his decision-making was impressive for a young QB starting just the sixth game of his career. Brooks continues to improve despite the fact that the Saints have lost their top weapons on offense. QB
 
Daunte Culpepper's performance this season has made Dennis Green's decision to let both Jeff George and Randall Cunningham go look very good. In his first season as a starter, the second-year player made the Pro Bowl. His athletic ability and poise have been very impressive. Last week, New Orleans played against the somewhat stationary Kurt Warner. Not this week.
Since Ricky Williams went down, the Saints' rushing attack has struggled. Last week, Terry Allen and Chad Morton combined for only 26 yards rushing. QB Brooks had 26 yards rushing on his own. Williams worked with the scout team this week, but don't expect him to see action. RB
 
Robert Smith had an MVP-type season, with 1,521 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. What makes Smith so great is his ability to make long runs to break the back of the defense.
Top wideout Joe Horn is questionable with an ankle injury. In Horn's absence against St. Louis, Willie Jackson stepped up with six receptions for 142 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints' no-name receiving group stole the show in the win against the Rams. With the injury to Horn, Brooks will need all the receivers to elevate their games. Former Viking Andrew Glover and Lamont Hall must become more of a factor at tight end. Don't count on it. WR / TE
 
Both Cris Carter and Randy Moss are big-play receivers that will go over the middle. Moss is arguably the most gifted and dangerous player in the NFL. Carter is one of the all-time greats and doesn't appear to have slowed down. If either gets hurt, Matthew Hatchette can come in -- he could start for most teams. With weapons like Moss, Carter and Robert Smith, the Vikings tight ends don't see a lot of action. Johnny McWilliams and Andrew Jordan do a good job of blocking up front.
The Saints' O-line has the ability to wear down defenses. Personally, I felt right tackle Kyle Turley had a better year than Pro Bowl-bound left tackle Willie Roaf but the truth is they're both good. The one thing Mike Ditka did right in New Orleans was build up this unit. LINE
 
Despite having let All-Pro players Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy go in the offseason, the Vikings still have one of the better offensive lines in the league. The revamped group did a great job this season as the team averaged 133.1 yards a game on the ground, sixth best in the NFL.

DEFENSE
Saints   Vikings
The Saints starting defensive line has the most sacks (43) as a group in the NFL. This week they will have to play the best game of their professional lives against the 265-pound Culpepper. LINE
 
The front line does not pressure the quarterback well. Outside of John Randle (eight sacks) and Talance Sawyer (six sacks) the rest of the unit doesn't contribute much.
Having faced NFL MVP Marshall Faulk three times this season, Keith Mitchell, Darrin Smith and Mark Fields will be ready to stop another big-play running back in Robert Smith. LB
 
The Vikings' linebackers are an athletic group and they find a way to get to the ball carrier. Ed McDaniel (119 tackles), Kailee Wong (111 tackles) and Dwayne Rudd (69 tackles) are three of four top tacklers on the defense.
Sammy Knight came up with two interceptions in the big win against the Rams. However, the 10th-ranked pass defense in the league may be without starting corner Alex Molden, who is questionable after suffering a concussion. DB
 
Safety Robert Griffith has had another excellent year and is going to the Pro Bowl. Still, his efforts could not help the Vikings' secondary, which ranked 28th in pass defense. Not only do they give up a lot of yards, they do not create turnovers (just eight interceptions, lowest in the NFL).

SPECIAL TEAMS
Saints   Vikings
The return team had trouble with the Rams' onside kick return unit. But the kickoff coverage was excellent, holding down Tony Horne, one of the most dangerous return men in the league.
 
Kicker Gary Anderson had another good season. Punter Mitch Burger (44.7 yards a punt) was named Player of the Month by his Vikings teammates. Troy Walters has handled the bulk of the returns, averaging 23.1 on kickoffs and 14.4 on punts.

COACHING
Saints   Vikings
Jim Haslett continues to get his team to play to another level, producing the first playoff win in team history. He has his team believing they can win it all. They continue to lose star players, but somehow he is able to get players to step up and produce.

Everyone questioned Dennis Green's decision to hand over the keys to the car to Daunte Culpepper. But year after year Green has his team in the playoffs and contending for the division.


 
Related information
Stories
CNNSI.com's Divisional Week at a Glance
CNNSI.com's NFL Divisional Games Preview
Multimedia
Vikings running back Robert Smith feels the Vikings can match the Saints' intensity. (139 K)
Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper says the Vikings are treating the playoffs as a way to make a fresh start. (108 K)
Saints running back Ricky Williams hopes the adrenaline rush of playing in a postseason game will offset his rustiness on the field. (102 K)
Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks feels the Saints will be just fine whether Ricky Williams returns or not. (60 K)
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