NEW ORLEANS — After enduring the fallout from child-abuse allegations against star running back Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings first-year coach Mike Zimmer might benefit from visiting an old friend in the football business.
He’ll do so Sunday when he sees Saints coach Sean Payton in New Orleans, though the timing is far from ideal.
New Orleans (0-2) has lost late leads in each of its first two games and needs a victory in its home opener Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Saints haven’t lost once under Payton’s direction since 2010.
So Payton, who worked with Zimmer when both were assistants under Bill Parcells in Dallas, hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to reach out to his former Cowboys colleague.
“No. Shoot no,” Payton said. “Not that we wouldn’t, but no. I am sure just with everything that is going on with him and with us here, a catch-up call is probably the last thing on the priority list.”
Zimmer at least has support from his son, Adam, a Vikings defensive assistant, who is familiar with how the Saints operate.
Payton gave Adam Zimmer his first NFL coaching job in 2006, the year after Payton left Dallas to take his first head coaching job in New Orleans. The younger Zimmer remained on Payton’s staff through the club’s only Super Bowl title in the 2009 season.
The elder Zimmer can only hope his son’s experience with Drew Brees and Co. will help this week. New Orleans may be winless, but the Saints offense has lived up to the highly productive standard it has set during the Payton era.
New Orleans ranks third in the NFL in total offense, averaging 434.5 yards per game, and second in scoring with 29 points per game. Saints all-time leading receiver Marques Colston had five catches for 110 yards in Week 1, and when Cleveland shut him down in Week 2, tight end Jimmy Graham had 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
So while Zimmer tries to manage Peterson’s indefinite absence and the intense publicity it has brought upon the Vikings (1-1), he’s also trying not to neglect his responsibilities as one of his club’s lead defensive coaches.
“Sean and Drew, Graham and all these guys have a lot of my attention,” Zimmer said. “When I see them on tape, I see a real good football team.”
Here are some things to know about the Vikings’ visit to New Orleans:
Veteran Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said he and his teammates noticed more television trucks around team headquarters after Peterson and the Vikings agreed that the running back would leave the team indefinitely while resolving his legal trouble. Beyond that, though, Greenway said the Vikings have succeeded in returning to normalcy at practice as quickly as possible. “For us, it’s about coming in and getting the game plan and taking it and putting it to work and communicating,” Greenway said.
The Saints’ running game is off to a strong start, averaging better than 156.5 yards. However, their top rusher, Mark Ingram, won’t play this Sunday after having surgery to repair a fractured bone in his hand. That’ll mean more work for veteran running back Pierre Thomas and second-year pro Khiry Robinson.
Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel has been inconsistent. He completed 68 percent of his passes with two TD tosses and no interceptions in a Week 1 win over St. Louis, then threw four interceptions in a lopsided loss to New England last Sunday. “The mistakes that hurt us last week, and the turnovers I had, I have to eliminate,” Cassel said. “I have to get back to playing like I did in the first game and the preseason in protecting the football and putting ourselves in a better position to win.”
Including the playoffs, the Saints have won their past 17 home games with Payton on the sideline, going 9-0 in 2011 and 8-0 in 2013. In 2012, Payton was suspended in connection with the NFL’s bounty probe. The home crowd often aids the defense, which in the Saints’ case could use the assist after shaky performances in both losses. New Orleans ranks near the bottom of the NFL in yards (446 per game) and points (31.5) allowed.
With Peterson out, the Vikings could consider less conventional running plays to involve receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the ground game. He is Minnesota’s leading rusher, thanks to his 102 yards on three carries, including a 67-yard TD, in Minnesota’s opener. Matt Asiata got the bulk of carries last week, rushing 13 times for 39 yards.