Saints prepping for Vikings' Peterson
NEW ORLEANS -- Power running, anyone?
Adrian Peterson and Deuce McAllister both have a knack for inflicting pain on tacklers, turning nothing into something and wearing down defenses.
Whether their teams rely on them to the same extent when the Minnesota Vikings visit the New Orleans Saints on Monday night is another matter.
"It's not like the spotlight is on me," said McAllister, who rushed 20 times for 73 yards and a score in the Saints' 31-17 victory over San Francisco a week ago. "I'm just adding more to this team, more weapons than what we have."
Under Sean Payton's version of the West Coast offense, which often uses running backs as receivers, the Saints are unquestionably a passing team. Drew Brees has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in Payton's system and is on pace to do it again.
Yet there are times when there is no substitute for the type of punishing inside runs on which McAllister has made his living -- be it bad weather, third-and-short, or late in the fourth quarter while trying to run out the clock with a slim lead.
Payton wasn't sure how much McAllister had left after coming back from his second knee reconstruction in three seasons. The coach kept the Saints' 29-year-old, all-time rushing leader largely out of the game plan during the first three weeks. And while the Saints generally moved the ball, they failed on pivotal short-yardage runs in close losses at Washington and Denver.
When McAllister returned against the Niners, he looked much like his former self, moving the pile and even diving over it for his first regular-season touchdown since December 2006.
Reggie Bush already gave the Saints a credible threat on outside runs and short receptions out of the backfield. McAllister's strong return invigorated an offensive line that enjoys mixing in a little old-fashioned, straight-ahead meanness to the blocking schemes.
"It's encouraging just because it's a big boy running the ball and the way he runs it ... he's going to punish somebody for getting off a block or trying to reach out with an arm," Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "It's exciting for an offensive line, just like it's exciting to see Reggie make these amazing cuts and find the little space and turn it into a 60- or 70-yard gain."
The Vikings don't know how much of McAllister they should expect to see, but they have to be ready for him.
"I don't see a whole lot of ill effects from that injury, and Sean's probably been very patient in working with that even though it's not the easiest thing to do," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.
Childress' patience has been tested, too, though not in the running game. After losses in the Vikings' first two games, Childress replaced 25-year-old quarterback Tarvaris Jackson with 37-year-old journeyman Gus Frerotte.
Frerotte's receivers include big-play threat Bernard Berrian, but the passing game is not what drives Minnesota. It's Peterson, who ranks second in the NFL with 420 yards rushing.
When Saints defenders talked about Peterson this week, it was reminiscent of what people used to say about McAllister in 2002 and 2003, when he made consecutive Pro Bowls.
"He possesses all the tools: speed, strength, size and attitude," Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "When you watch him run, you can tell he's very competitive. We know they're going to run the ball. It's no secret. They've got a great back, a great offensive line, so it's going to be a huge challenge."
Peterson does not sound frustrated by his team's slow start. He sees his success as a foundation upon which Minnesota can build and get stronger as the season goes on, perhaps peaking around playoff time as the defending champion New York Giants did last season.
"We know what type of team we have," Peterson said. "You can start off slow, but you can always pick it up and finish strong and that's what it's all about."
Minnesota's rough start can't last much longer, however, or the Vikings' early-season hole could become too deep, like the Saints' 0-4 start was in 2007.
Peterson sees a road game on Monday night as an ideal place to begin the climb back into playoff contention.
"It will be a good way to bounce back, going into a hostile environment in New Orleans," Peterson said. "Fans will be in that dome drunk, crazy and yelling. It will be a good atmosphere to go out and know what we got. In the playoffs you have to be able to win on the road. It's going to be a good test."