Saints Offense vs Vikings Defense
The Vikings have generally been seen as a defensive-oriented team. However, that hasn’t been the case this season.
They are currently allowing the seventh-most yards/play, as well as the eighth-most points/game. By comparison, they ranked fifth in points/play a season ago; season-to-season defensive performance can be quite volatile.
So, what has changed for the Vikings? First off, they have had a lot of turnover at the cornerback position.
Between Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, their entire cornerback room is shaped by rookies, which presents a lot of growing pains. However, both have played better as of late, with Dantzler shining as of late:
Also, Minnesota’s pass rush has been completely stripped to pieces. Star edge rusher Danielle Hunter hasn’t played a snap this season due to injury, while the team parted ways with veteran pass rusher Everson Griffen in the offseason.
To replace him, they acquired Yannick Ngakoue via trade, but they shipped him to Baltimore at the trade deadline, so they’re relying on a lot of unproven pass rushers currently.
In the playoffs last season, Zimmer used Hunter and Griffen on the interior to take advantage of the Saints’ issues on the interior offensive line. However, he won’t have the luxury of doing so this time around, which is a major advantage for the Saints.
What isn’t an advantage for New Orleans is the matchups in this game.
The Vikings are allowing the sixth-fewest receiving yards to running backs this season, which makes sense since their defense is based on the safety duo of Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, in addition to linebacker Eric Kendricks, who may be healthy for this game.
Thus, the Saints will need to attack Minnesota’s cornerbacks, which will be hard to do with an injured receiving corps. The x-factor of this game is clearly Emmanuel Sanders, who is the team’s only reliable receiver at the moment, but Drew Brees also needs to be healthy enough to air the ball down the field somewhat.
That last point is critical here. Brees clearly wasn’t healthy last week, and thus completed less than half of his passes, which is unheard of from one of the league’s most accurate passers of all time. If he isn’t in sync in this game, the matchups and play-calling don’t matter.
As the Saints roll into the playoffs, some sort of conviction on his well-being will be appreciated.
The Vikings have overall been productive against the run this season, so this is game where head coach Sean Payton will want to utilize the pass game. Due to all the exotic looks Zimmer can throw an offense’s way, Minnesota still ranks in the top-ten in third-down defense. Avoiding those scenarios will be key.