Many storylines surround the approaching Divisional round matchup between the Vikings and Saints on Sunday.
One of the aspects drawing a lot of buzz is a multi-faceted New Orleans offense going against Minnesota's dynamic, No. 1 defense. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said earlier this week that many things make the Vikings defense tough to prepare for.
"I think it's the front four, and then the challenges on third down exist when it becomes a potential of eight or seven. They do a good job in their third downs and disguising blitz looks, creating, 'Am I going this way or that way,' " Payton said. "And then when you compile it and put that together with the noise and communication elements, you see unblocked guys hitting the quarterback or the ball not getting off, or the ball getting fumbled.
"Their third-down numbers are first in the league, defensively," Payton continued. "They can get pressure with four, [and] they do. I think just the get-off on your edges when you're playing in loud environments on the road, that just half a tick, that's going to be real important."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will celebrate his 39th birthday on Monday, will be facing the Vikings for the seventh time in his career. It will mark his second postseason meeting with Minnesota, the first being 2009's NFC Championship game.
Sunday will be just the third time, however, that Brees plays against the Vikings under Head Coach Mike Zimmer. The two teams met in New Orleans in September of 2014 and opened this season at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"They're extremely well-coached," Brees said of Minnesota's defense. "They have great players … great athletes. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players. It's a really good scheme, those guys play really well, they're very sound. They just play well together. High-energy, you know, they just do everything very, very well."
Brees later added: "They're a very good defense all the way around – especially on third downs, especially in the red zone. So we've got our work cut out for us."
Payton, who spent three seasons (2003-05) on the Cowboys coaching staff with Zimmer, called Zimmer a "good friend" and said that his success thus far with the Vikings is not surprising.
"The film we've been watching this week, he's such a technician, such a teacher," Payton said. "I've seen him do that, and he's done such a great job with that team … the defense and the offense and the staff. He's a [good] football coach, and they present a huge challenge in a lot of areas this week, and we're going to have to play extremely well."
Here are other highlights of the Saints talking about the Vikings:
Brees on playing at U.S. Bank Stadium
"That is an extremely loud environment, probably one of the louder ones in the league."
Payton on connection with Zimmer
"He and I have had a great relationship. We lived, I would say probably a mile and a half, two miles from each other there and did a lot of things together. Our families, his daughters babysat my two children. For a period of three years for me – Mike was there longer – we were good friends and still are.
"We talk all the time about football. There are certain things he might come in and draw up on the board or I might see him about – it's pretty common. But our families were close, and he's still a good friend."
Brees on what makes Vikings S Harrison Smith 'special'
"Well, he's an extremely smart football player. You can see that. He's always in the right position – even when he's disguised, he gets back into the right position. He's very instinctive. He anticipates. He's a great tackler, he's tough, and he's big, physical, he's got good ball skills and a good feel in both the run game and the pass game."
Brees on Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
"Rhodes, he's a big, physical guy that wants to get his hands on you and is obviously very good in that role. They just match him up on a team's top receiver in a lot of cases and just say, 'You stay over here, and we'll worry about the rest of them.' He's an exceptional player."
Saints G Larry Warford on Vikings D-line
"They're great. I've played against them a bunch, being in Detroit. They've always been up there with the best of them. We're going to have our work cut out, but I think this offensive line, if we prepare the way we prepare, we'll be fine."
Saints OL Senio Kelemete on Sunday's game
"It's going to be a smash-mouth football game. It's going to be, 'Whose will is stronger,' you know? They've got a good front seven … They've got good linebackers, they've got good d-linemen, and honestly, they've got good DBs, too. We're just going to have to bring our 'A' game."