“In my mind, we’re starting and ending the season in Minnesota,” Peterson said -- a reference to Minnesota hosting this year’s Super Bowl.
Sometimes when I’m starting a story, I like to write the ending first so I know where it’s going, and the perfect ending for the 2017 New Orleans Saints would be finishing it up in Minnesota as players take turns hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. With that being said, every story has its beginnings, and this one is no different.
On Monday night, the Saints will travel to face the Vikings in their first matchup of the season, and the Vikings will offer a staunch test for the black and gold patrol. Here’s a look a few things the Saints can do to leave Minnesota with a win on Monday Night.
Saints Defensive Line vs. Vikings Offensive Line
If the Saints are to win this game comfortably, it’s going to require that our more talented defensive line does not play down to what can be deemed inferior competition. The Vikings have stitched together an o-line that has new starters at every single position and a rookie center that is ripe for a welcome to the NFL moment. They will need to put pressure on Sam Bradford (who’s accurate but not Olympic Archer accurate - Sup Drew) so that he doesn’t slice and dice a still unknown secondary.
The question of how good of a hire Ryan Nielsen was will certainly get answered in this game. The individual matchup I’d like to highlight will be between Mike Remmers and Cameron Jordan. Both players are familiar with each other from Remmers’ time in Carolina, and believe it or not Jordan was held without a sack in both games against Remmers last season. The caveat to that is Bradford is a stationary target, unlike Newton, thus how Jordan decides to attack Remmers with no worries of a QB escaping the pocket could be totally different. I fully expect Cam Jordan to eat on Monday Night.
Establish the Run to set up Play Action
In scouting the Vikings for this article, one of the things that stood out to me was how much trouble their LBs were having recognizing play action. Meanwhile, the Saints are down a WR, have a RB that would like to “stick it to his old team”, have a defense they need to protect, and are the visiting team. These scenarios and the obstacles they present certainly suggest that establishing the run game will be important for victory.
The Vikings duo of Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are fairly young in this league. They haven’t seen much football yet, and thus can be tricked, hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok, and led astray. On top of that, the Vikings defense during preseason gave up 10+ plays of 20 yards or more. Establish the run to take the crowd out of it, force the LBs to start to cheat up, then hit them with big plays over their head to demoralize a defense that I think will take a step back from a year ago.
Win the Turnover Margin
A common theme in every Saints preseason game thus far has been the offense’s propensity to turn the ball over and put the defense in precarious situations. On the opposite end, the defense evokes memories of Roberto Duran because every player on it seems to have Hands of Stone. Marcus Williams, Marshon Lattimore, Nathan Stupar, Adam Bighill, and Ken Crawley all dropped INTs during the preseason.
Look, the margin for error with this team isn’t much wider than it was last year and so not shooting themselves in the foot and taking advantage of plays that are presented have to be a big part of the discussion in New Orleans right now. Drew Brees is known to force an INT at times, Adrian Peterson is known to fumble, Kamara was knocked for a few fumbles in college, Brandon Coleman was a culprit of an untimely fumble of his own last year, and Michael Thomas coughed up two in one game.
I said that to put things in perspective. The big named guys on offense will need to protect the ball like its a newborn to ensure that they don’t beat themselves in glorious fashion like they did last year on the way to 7-9, while hoping the guys on the defense can force a turnover or two.
If the Saints can do all of the above and simultaneously ride the wave of emotions that come with opening matches, then they’ll emerge victorious. They just need to take advantage of the plays that present themselves and stay on the positive side of momentum during the bout. Payton always remarks about the ebb and flow of games and I think this matchup will have plenty of them for the team to navigate.
Player to Watch vs. Vikings
Michael Thomas, WR
Thomas will face a tough test in the Vikings top CB Xavier Rhodes. The Florida State Seminoles product has had a good start to his career in Minnesota and recently earned himself a new contract. While he is known to struggle with speed Thomas is speed deficient and will have to find other ways to win. The Saints, when faced with 3rd downs, may possibly look to Thomas on his signature slant play to convert. He’ll need to win the battle with Rhodes more often than not so he can assist in keeping the chains moving. The last thing I want to hear repeatedly from the announcers on Monday is, “What a pass breakup that was by Rhodes on Thomas”.
Random Thought I: A lot of the game is played between the ears. With that being said, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is already talking about how the game isn’t just about Adrian Peterson. Does it not seem like AP being featured in the run game has already been established for the Saints? Everyone and their Momma + Colonel Sanders will be expecting Peterson early and often, which is exactly the type of thing I’d take advantage of if I were Sean Payton scripting my first 20 plays.
Random Thought II: With Snead out. the 3rd running back on the depth chart (Alvin Kamara) is better than the 3rd WR (Brandon Coleman). That should point you in the right direction for how we can possibly expect Payton to supplement the loss of Snead.
What do you think the Saints can do to secure a victory? Agree/Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.