(We're sprucing up our day-after-game posts here on the NFC North blog, but the structure remains the same.)
I spent much of my time in our "Countdown Live" chat arguing for the Vikings to open up their offense and felt vindicated when passes of 33 and 20 yards to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe resulted in a touchdown just before halftime. But after doing some postgame interviews, I changed my mind. I think the Vikings missed an opportunity to really get after it with their running game. With the Saints playing mostly a three-man line with Cover 2 defense in the back end, the Vikings should have been able to control the game better with their running game. But coach Brad Childress seemed disappointed with the direction the offense took in the second half. Adrian Peterson got only four carries, while quarterback Brett Favre missed on eight of 12 throws. I think the Vikings could have worn down the Saints defense and knocked off a big run or two if they had stayed with it. Oh well. Hindsight is 20-20.
Childress said without reservation that third-year player Husain Abdullah is "our starting strong safety." We knew the Vikings weren't happy with 2009 starter Tyrell Johnson, but their training camp competition exclusively pit Johnson against second-year player Jamarca Sanford. Abdullah apparently got a few first-team repetitions during practice, but his emergence truly came out of nowhere. I don't know if the Vikings were playing possum with him, or if he became the starter because both Johnson and Sanford proved unworthy. But I can't argue with Abdullah's play Thursday night. He finished with four tackles, including an especially athletic stop of Saints tailback Reggie Bush. And if he dragged down the Vikings' pass defense, it wasn't evident on the whole. Quarterback Drew Brees threw for a relatively harmless 237 yards.
It took a while for the Vikings to work Greg Camarillo into their offense, but I liked what I saw when they did. Favre's first pass to him was not until midway through the fourth quarter, but Camarillo made a nice adjustment and hauled in a 29-yard reception to convert a third-and-4 situation. An offense that clearly lacked explosiveness Thursday night should use every weapon at its disposal. Camarillo might not have breakaway speed, but his sure hands and precise route-running should make him an easy fit with Favre.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I'm still trying to figure out why the Saints didn't continue throwing downfield the way they did on their first drive, when quarterback Drew Brees completed three of four passes for 69 yards. Devery Henderson's 29-yard touchdown less than three minutes into the game suggested the rout was on. The Saints were clearly trying to capitalize on the Vikings' three-cornerback roster, but Brees managed only 158 more passing yards the rest of the way. So what gave? Childress suggested that the Saints had success with the "scripted" portion of their game plan but then veered away from it. The Vikings really didn't make much of an adjustment. They kept playing their nickel scheme and were the beneficiaries of an opponent that decided to play into the Vikings' strength as run-stoppers and mid-range pass defenders. Whatever.