With conversations about retirement and recuperation in full bloom, what better time to take a quick look back to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. The game was won by the Saints 31-28 in overtime, but was dominated statistically by the Vikings. Minnesota held large advantages in first downs, yards, and time of possession; but, the Vikings were defeated largely due to turnovers forced by the Saints.
Even though New Orleans surrendered 475 yards, there were some instances where the defense stepped up to set the table for big turnovers that would eventually decide the outcome of this game. Brett Favre has been roundly criticized for flinging an interception at the end of regulation that kept kicker Ryan Longwell on the sidelines. Tracy Porter’s pick sent the game into overtime and allowed the Saints to escape. Before Porter’s play, however, the Saints interior defensive linemen Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis stepped up to stuff Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson on consecutive plays (first and second down) from the Saints 33. It was their defense on first and second down that created a 3rd and 10 situation, and caused the Viking coaching staff to consider the best course of action. The ensuing 5-yard penalty for having 12 men in the huddle influenced the Vikings decision to pass, and the rest is history.
The True Turning Point
These invisible plays in the fourth quarter could not have happened if the Saints didn’t do a few important things earlier in the game. The Vikings dominated on both sides of the ball and New Orleans committed just one turnover. That fumble, a muffed punt by Reggie Bush (I am uncomfortable using “muff” and “Bush” in the same sentence.) gave the Vikings the ball deep in the Red Zone.
The Vikings first play after the fumble may have been one of the biggest plays of the game. Minnesota lined up in a conventional power run formation and Adrian Peterson took the handoff on a power run to the right side.
Take a look at where the Saints defensive tackles are lined up in this play. Sedrick Ellis is on the far left, inside of the defensive end, and Remi Ayodele is in the left defensive tackle (on the right side — offensive viewpoint).
At the snap of the ball, the Viking center and left guard fire off the ball and get to the second level. Neither of them engage the defensive tackles. They lock on to the linebackers (inside the yellow circle) and are clearing a path for Adrian Peterson. The tight end is working on sealing the edge and the full back is coming through the hole to deliver a lead block. The Saints defensive tackles appear to be caught up in traffic.
Adrian Peterson has made it to the corner. He has his shoulders turned toward the goal line. There is a defensive back in the picture, but he is engaged by a Viking blocker. That Saints DB is in no position to make a tackle. The man around Peterson’s leg is Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Check the video. Vilma got mauled and is hanging on for dear life. He is in no position to bring down Adrian Peterson. The ONLY player in a position to stop Adrian Peterson on this play is defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. Remi Ayodele is just a bit too far away. Ellis came all the way from the other side of the formation to get in on this play. If Ellis doesn’t run, Peterson walks into the end zone.
Sedrick Ellis finishes this play by tackling Adrian Peterson and taking him out of bounds.
The next play from scrimmage for the Vikings was a fumbled hand off between Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson.
Ellis’ hustle on this play is not the stuff of highlights, but it is the type of play that makes a tremendous difference in how games play out. If Ellis doesn’t get to the edge, Peterson very likely scores. Favre never gets to fumble the snap, and more importantly, the Vikings would have led 21-14. Given how Leslie Frazier’s defense played, that might have been decisive. Instead, the Vikings played the entire second half from a trail position.
The Saints could continue to have a run/pass balance without getting desperate about playing from behind. When a team is minus 4 in turnovers, you can point to any number of plays that make a big impact on the final score. This was one such play. Kudos to Sedrick Ellis for hustling and making a play. (End Note: Remi Ayodele also recoverd a fumble in the fourth quarter which led to the Saints building a 28-21 lead.)