Sunday, January 24, 2010

On The Ground: Breaking down the Saints with Mark Hooper

As part of this preview of today's NFC championship game, I spoke to my Fanball colleague Mark Hooper of Who Dat Blog to get his thoughts on the Saints. My questions and his responses are below.

Andrew Bucholtz: The Saints didn't finish the regular season particularly convincingly, but they turned in a very impressive win over the Cardinals last weekend. Were you expecting more rust from them, or did you see that kind of dominant performance coming?

Mark Hooper: To be honest, I didn't see that coming. I expected more of a track meet, and I thought that first play from scrimmage set the tone. I really was thinking the Saints would do their normal slow start then finish strong, but they were cranking on all cylinders from play one. Drew Brees had arguably the best game of his season balancing the running and passing game, keeping the Cardinals on their heels all day. The Saints could do anything they wanted at any time.

A.B.: Both the Saints and the Vikings have gotten great performances from their quarterbacks this season. Who do you think will play better on Sunday, Drew Brees or Brett Favre?

M.H.: Brees. Favre had a remarkable game against the Cowboys, tossing long pinpoint passes to talented WRs and escaping the pressure. I think that game was also his finest performance of the year, and that's saying a lot. I just don't see him being able to duplicate that against the Saints defense. The Saints have had issues in their secondary this season, but their opportunistic defense and better safeties will make Favre work harder for his scores. Brees just has too much talent and at home will put together a solid game.

A.B.: On a similar note, who would you rather have, Adrian Peterson or the Saints' deep backfield?

M.H.: I see Peterson having a bigger impact that he did against the Cowboys, and I think he may be a big factor in keeping drives alive and third-down situations manageable. Reggie Bush could be a game-changer, but that's a tossup right now.

A.B.: Are there any matchups against the Vikings that bode well for the Saints? Are there any that are concerning?

M.H.: Vikes' wideouts vs. Saints' corners. That's the biggest concern, and the Saints will need to get pressure from their front-four to alleviate the pressure on their corners. If they have to resort top blitzes to slow down Favre, it could be a long day for Saints fans.

A.B.: What do you think the final score will be? Why?

M.H.: 34-31 Saints. I don't think you can overlook the Saints confidence coming off a blow-out win vs. the Cardinals (and another aging yet productive QB), and more importantly, the home-field advantage.

Thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to me! Check out his work here.

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