Minnesota Vikings: Five Things To Watch Against The New Orleans Saints
The Minnesota Vikings open their playoffs tomorrow with the chance to gain redemption from their 2009 NFC Championship Game defeat against the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees and an improved Saints defense will pose a challenge for the Vikings. The Saints have become more balanced and dynamic on offense through the talented rushing duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. With a veteran quarterback coming to town, the Vikings will try to make a statement. Drew Brees is just 1-4 on the road during his playoff career. One could argue facing the top defense in football on the road will be the biggest challenge the Saints have experienced all season.
Here are five things to watch throughout the game.
1. Brees and the Saints’ weapons
This is the one area everyone will be the most concerned about in this game: slowing Drew Brees. The veteran quarterback was clicking in the Wild Card game vs. the Panthers, dropping several throws into tight windows. The Vikings defense will need to disguise their coverages against Brees because he will sit back in the pocket and pick apart zone looks. Expect Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes to shadow Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas as Minnesota plays more man-to-man coverage this time around. Cornerback Trae Waynes will likely be tasked with handling Ted Ginn Jr., who has been a threat vertically all season. The Saints have the top explosive pass play rate, among NFL teams, tallying 55 plays of 15-plus yards. Minnesota has allowed the second-fewest plays of this variety, per Sharp Football. Minnesota’s ability to play successfully in man-to-man coverage and timely rush the passer has been key.
2. Linval Joseph needs to have a big game
Linval Joseph is one of the single most important players in this game. Look for Joseph to attack the interior of the Saints line, as left guard Andrus Peat suffered a season-ending fibula injury last week. Minnesota has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the NFL (23), including just eight at home. The environment certainly will help, but playing disciplined is going to be extra important.
3. Keeping tabs on the Kamara/Ingram duo
New Orleans’ duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have combined to accumulate 1,852 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. They both are averaging more than five yards per carry. Kamara also is a big receiving threat out of the backfield. He has four receiving touchdowns inside the red zone, has been targeted 17 times inside the 20-yard-line, getting 14 grabs. The Vikings will need to keep an eye on this running back duo throughout the game. They’ve done well handling athletic running backs all year by showing off their team speed on defense. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have been flying all over the field.
4. Vikings need to create explosive plays
Minnesota has the fifth-most explosive passing plays (15 yards-plus) and New Orleans has allowed the fifth-most this year, according to Sharp Football. The Saints showed their vulnerability in the Wild Card game with several coverage breakdowns occurring in the back end. Marshon Lattimore will likely shadow wide receiver Adam Thielen, leaving a favorable matchup for Stefon Diggs. Also, expect offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to line up Jerick McKinnon in the slot to exploit a Saints defense which allowed six catches and 101 yards to Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey last week. Lastly, quarterback Case Keenum must continue taking care of the football. He only had one game this season where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. In the one loss down the stretch in Carolina, Keenum tossed two picks. The Vikings can’t reward Drew Brees with a short field or things will get interesting.
5. Zimmer’s opponent preparation
The Vikings will try to keep their momentum rolling at home against Drew Brees and the Saints. If they can control the New Orleans running back duo and keep Brees from taking over the game, they will be in an excellent position. Many people have neglected to truly discuss the success of the Vikings defense. They were the top unit in nearly every category while posting a record-breaking third down conversion percentage. More importantly, the Vikings are 7-1 under Mike Zimmer when having eight or more days to prepare for a team. Minnesota’s coaching staff will dial up a scheme to attack New Orleans and everyone should be excited to see their approach.