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Be wary of the trenches during Saints-Vikings

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The big storyline of tonight’s game involves a running back. But it’s not the only thing to watch on the ground.

It’s safe to say the New Orleans Saints don’t usually acquire future Hall of Fame players in free agency. Before this offseason, the last time the Saints did sign a for-sure Hall of Fame candidate was in 2014. That was Champ Bailey, who failed to play in a regular season game with the Saints after being cut.

This offseason was a bit different, however. The team was able to sign All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson will not only become a Hall of Famer when it’s all said and done, but he also made the team and looks to play an important part for them this season and beyond.

That will be tested early. The Saints have traveled to Minnesota and are set to face Peterson’s former team, the Vikings, later this evening. Peterson is getting the nod to start, so we’ll have the pleasure of seeing him run the ball as a Saint for the first time early on. Our own Roy Anderson recently discussed the parameters that brings in.

Two questions will be answered tonght: how well will Peterson perform out of the gate? And, how often will Peterson actually play? While these are important factors in the game, Peterson’s play isn’t the only thing to watch down in the trenches.

Both teams are interesting on the ground

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Peterson joins Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, who looks to build upon his first ever 1,000 yard rushing season in 2016. Also joining Ingram is rookie Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee. Kamara looks to fill the scat back role the Saints have desperately missed. While New Orleans seems to be loaded at the running back position, Minnesota’s backfield is looking very impressive itself.

Despite Peterson leaving the team, the Vikings were able to attain some additional talent. It started with the signing of Latavius Murray, who was an impressive player for the Oakland Raiders. Jerick McKinnon is also still on the team, and he amassed nearly 900 yards from scrimmage a season ago. The Vikings also snagged All-American Dalvin Cook out of Florida State in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

So, despite elite Drew Brees and unpredictable Sam Bradford under center for both teams, respectively, a lot of attention will be on what happens in the run game. Along with that comes eyes focused on the offensive line, which have their own stories as well.

The Saints will have two new starters on the offensive line: rookie Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle, and veteran left guard from the Lions, Larry Warford. Andrus Peat is still finding his footing at left guard, and center Max Unger looks good to go after an injury limited his playing time during the preseason.

Will this be enough to protect Brees and help bolster the talent of New Orleans’ backfield? It’ll be something to watch, as the preseason didn’t tell us too much.

And the Vikings

As for the Vikings, their line couldn’t possibly be worse than the nightmare it was a season ago. Injuries and poor play up front led to the Vikings plummeting during the second half of the season. They started by cutting tackle T. J. Clemmings and signing former-Detroit Lion, Riley Reiff. He hopes to protect Bradford’s blindside and set the edge for the rushers.

On the other side protecting against All-Pro Cameron Jordan is journeyman, Mike Remmers. Rookie Pat Elflein won the starting center job during training camp, so New Orleans may be able to expose his inexperience. Veteran Nick Easton and Joe Berger help fill out the line at the guard positions. Again, there’s no way this line can be worse than it was last season.

However, does that make it good enough against the improved front-7 of New Orleans? We’ll have to see. The Saints nor the Vikings can survive on talent alone. Play calling and toughness in the trenches will be extremely important. Both defensive lines can wreak havoc, but both offenses are explosive and gritty. Keep your eyes peeled during run plays and important protection packages. They will be huge factors in determining the winner of tonight’s game.

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