The 2008 Minnesota Vikings, by all accounts, are built to win right now.
Following an off-season in which team owner Zygi Wilf opened the proverbial vault and went out and signed free agent wide receiver Bernard Berrian and S Madieu Williams via the free agent route, Minnesota's biggest off-season acquisition, both literally and figuratively, occurred when they landed DE Jared Allen, who led the league in sacks last season with 15.5 sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.
Despite a 1-3 start to the season, the Vikings still remain an extremely formidable foe for the Saints on Monday night. "With the three NFC games [against the Saints, Lions and Bears] coming up, it's easy for me to say it's not how you start it's how you finish," Vikings coach Brad Childress said Monday in his press conference. "But it is how you finish and what you learn as you go and how you continue to improve."
The biggest question mark for the team heading into the season surrounded the play at the quarterback spot, but that question was answered just two weeks into the season when Childress, now in his third season at the helm, inserted 15-year veteran Gus Frerrote into the lineup in place of the younger Tavaris Jackson. The results in the win-loss column have been even (1-1 with Frerotte) versus a 0-2 mark with Jackson. Frerotte, through two games, has attempted 12 more passes than Jackson did and has thrown for 162 more yards through two games than Jackson accomplished in his first two starts. Both quarterbacks each had one touchdown passing, and Jackson, with one interception, threw one fewer than Frerotte has thus far. The numbers appear to suggest that the reigns of the offense may be a bit looser for Frerotte than they were for Jackson, however conventional wisdom suggests that the reason for the increased passing attempts for Frerotte were more of a by-product of the Vikings trailing throughout the game in Tennessee last week than any drastic change in the Minnesota play-calling philosophy.
While the Minnesota quarterbacks have changed, the one constant has been the play of RB Adrian Peterson. The Oklahoma product seemingly took the NFL by storm in his rookie season and has not suffered a sophomore jinx thus far in 2008. Peterson is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season and is averaging 21 carries a game and a tidy 105 yards per contest on the ground. Peterson suffered a hamstring injury two weeks ago against the Colts, but hasn't missed any playing time the last two weeks and has remained the go-to man in the Vikings' backfield, although a very capable replacement in the form of former Baltimore Ravens RB Chester Taylor (71 yards on 20 carries) waits in the wings. With two 100-yard rushing games already this season Peterson already owns eight 100-yard games through his first 18 games as a pro (he missed two games last season). Of the 100-yard games, two have been for over 200 yards, including when he set the NFL-record for most rushing yards in a game (296 against the Chargers last season). Even more remarkable is the fact that Peterson has had only two games in his career in which he has carried the ball over 25 times (once in 2007 and once this season). Out of the backfield Peterson has nine receptions for 52 yards thus far this season.
Leading the Vikings' wide receiver corps is the aforementioned Bernard Berrian (11 rec.-195 yards.17.7 avg.) and fellow starting wideout Bobby Wade (13 rec.-152 yards-11.7 avg.). Berrian is a former Chicago Bear who signed with the division rival Vikings early in the 2008 free agency period to bolster the Vikes' passing game. Wade has been a favorite target of Frerotte's the past two weeks, hauling in 10 passes for 110 yards. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who was Saints' tight end Jeremy Shockey's top back-up while with the New York Giants, is the Vikings' starting tight end and has posted 10 receptions for 129 yards and a score so far this season and also is one of the key blocking members on the outside for Peterson and Taylor. Second-year wide out Sidney Rice, at 6-4, 202-pounds is expected to see plenty of playing time in multiple receiver sets and allows the Vikings to move Wade into the slot receiver spot.
Minnesota's offensive line is one of the best units in the NFL. Pro Bowl C Matt Birk and G Steve Hutchison are the interior anchors of the line, while LT Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 335 pounds) is expected to return to action following a four-game NFL imposed suspension for off-the-field conduct violations. Artis Hicks, who replaced McKinnie at left tackle in games one through four, could move to his more comfortable RG spot now that McKinnie has been cleared to return. The RT spot is manned by another imposing figure in 6-6, 328-pound Ryan Cook, a second-round draft choice of Minnesota's in 2006. Fifth-year RG Anthony Herrera lines up between Birk and Cook and is now in his second season as the team's starting lineup following three years as a top reserve.
Simply stated, the Minnesota defensive front may be one of the most imposing in all of the NFL. Starting in the interior of the line, Pro Bowl DT's Pat Williams and Kevin Williams form "The Williams Wall" and are a large reason the team allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league in 2007. Jared Allen, he of the previously noted 15.5 sacks last season, is the new face on the front line and while he might be known as a top-flight rush end, is equally adept at stopping running plays to his side due to his long wing span and stout build (6-6, 270). Allen has registered two sacks thus far this season is also known to bat more than his fair share of passes down at the line of scrimmage. The starting LDE is Otis Grigsby in the 4-3 defensive front employed by the Vikings. Grigsby, at 6-3, 260 is a product of the University of Kentucky who broke into the NFL as a member of the Carolina Panthers in 2006 and 2007 as a member of their practice squad before being signed by Minnesota. Former Texas Longhorn Brian Robison always seeing considerable playing time in the defensive end rotation.
The Vikings had seven Pro Bowl members in 2007, but one of them wasn't starting MLB E.J. Henderson. An oversight on the voting public's part? Most likely. Henderson was voted by his teammates as the defensive MVP last season after he led the team in tackles and was the team's defensive leader in the huddle. Henderson left Sunday's game with an apparent foot injury, although Childress declined providing specifics of the injury in his post-game press conference. Former San Diego Charger Ben Leber mans one outside linebacking spot while former first-round pick Chad Greenway handles the other. Both Leber and Greenway became full-time starters last season and Greenway appears to be headed for the stardom many predicted for him before his rookie season ended with a serious knee injury. Saints QB Drew Brees is familiar with Leber as they were teammates with the Chargers before moving on to their current respective teams.
The Vikings defensive secondary suffered a hit in the pre-season when Madieu Williams (nerve injury in his neck) was sidelined. Williams, one of the top coverage safeties in the league, has missed the first four games of the season and been replaced in the lineup by rookie second-round draft choice Tyrell Johnson, from Arkansas State. Johnson was the second-highest safety drafted in the 2008 draft, behind only the N.Y. Giants' selection of Kenny Phillips from the University of Miami. The other safety is long-time NFL star Darren Sharper, a four-time Pro Bowler and one of the NFL's all-time most prolific interceptors with 53 career thefts. Now in his 12th NFL season, Sharper roams the secondary and is always looking to add to his total of eight career interceptions returned for a touchdown. LCB Antoine Winfield is regarded as one of the most complete corners in the NFL due to his tight coverage skills and willingness to play aggressively against the run. The knock on Winfield, throughout his career is his low interception total, but the number (19) is much more so a product of the fact that opposing teams rarely throw to his side of the field, thus preventing him the opportunity to makes plays on the football. Cedric Griffin, a third-year CB from Texas, is the starter at RCB. A second-round pick out of the University of Texas in 2006, Griffin moved into the starting lineup midway through his rookie campaign and racked up 81 tackles last season. The Vikings' nickel-back is a third-year pro Charles Gordon, who made the team in 2006 as a rookie free agent out of the University of Kansas. Gordon has played in 28 games throughout his first three seasons and also filled in as a starter in four of those contests. He owns one of the two Vikings interceptions this season (while Winfield recorded the other pick). Former Kansas City Chief Benny Sapp is the team's dime back and also one of the top special teams players in the NFL.
In the kicking department former Green Bay Packers kicker Ryan Longwell provides extremely dependable field goal efforts, particularly from 45-yards and in. He has yet to miss a field goal from inside of 45 yards since joining the team as a free agent in 2006 and is 10-of-12 thus far this season, with his both of his misses coming from 48 yards. Chris Kluwe, a fourth year man from UCLA, handles the punting duties and owns a 48.4 average with a net average of 36.9 yards with six of his punts having been down inside the opponents' 20. Minnesota uses Chester Taylor (25.9 avg.) and RB Maurice Hicks (27.5 avg.) as their primary kickoff return men with Charles Gordon (4.9 avg.) serving as the team's punt return specialist.
*Minnesota has converted 20-of-56 third downs this season for a conversion rate of 35.7%. Defensively the Vikings have allowed 19-of-53 third downs to be converted (35.8%).
*The Saints have converted 22-of-48 third downs (45.8%) and allowed their opponents to convert 14-of-43 (32.6%).
*Minnesota is averaging 323 yards per game offensively and surrendering an average of 279.3 yards per game. The Vikings average 141.3 yards per game rushing and 181.8 yards through the air. Defensively they are allowing a only 71.8 yards rushing and 207.5 through the air.
*The Saints are averaging 414.3 yards per game offensively and surrendering an average of 372.0 yards per game. The Saints average 87 yards a game rushing and 327.3 yards per game passing.
*The Vikings have six touchdowns this season, with three of them coming via the run, two on passing and fumble recovery. K Ryan Longwell leads the team in scoring with 35 points (5 extra points and 10 field goals).
*The Saints have scored 14 touchdowns, with five rushing scores, eight passing touchdowns and one via a Reggie Bush punt return. Martin Gramatica leads the Saints in scoring with 25 points (13 extra points and four field goals).
*The Vikings have recorded five takeaways (two interceptions and three forced fumbles) and turned the ball over seven times (four fumbles and three interceptions).
*The Saints have turned the ball over seven times, as well (four interceptions and three fumbles), while also forcing seven of their own (four interceptions and three forced fumbles).