How much stock should you buy into what went down in week one? The Minnesota Vikings easily handled the New Orleans Saints, controlling the pace of the game and lining up one explosive play after another. But that was three months ago, and things have significantly changed since.
The Vikings have since lost their leading passer (Sam Bradford) and leading rusher (Dalvin Cook), but the Saints have lost a lot more. Four of New Orleans’ top nine defenders in snaps played (A.J. Klein, Kenny Vaccaro, Alex Okafor, and Alex Anzalone) have since been placed on injured reserve. Tenth-ranked De’Vante Harris was demoted to the practice squad, though he still manages to cameo in group celebration pics during games. Across the field, all eleven Vikings starters from the season-opener will be suiting up again this Sunday.
There’s no doubt the Saints are a different team now. Since getting shredded by Bradford in week one and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in week two, defensive coordinator threw out his playbook and totally changed philosophies. The Saints trimmed the fat of complicated zone coverages and too-exotic blitz designs to focus more on playing disciplined man coverage and getting guys in best position to succeed.
I wouldn’t say that’s been the case for the Vikings. They found their winning formula early and have ridden it to a bye week in the playoffs. They aren’t doing many things differently now than they were back in week one.
That’s been the takeaway from NFL analyst Brian Baldinger, who rolled out this week’s narrated film study on what the Saints did well - and what they did very poorly - against the Vikings last time:
.@saints as a play caller; understand how the “ defensive patterns” move and then counter that movement . Look for this Sunday. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/dF565HCAeW— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
.@saints live to “counter the pattern movement” to create easy reads and easy completions. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/8gDDVzgcko— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
The Saints offense has struggled on third down all season, and the Vikings have been historically-great on that crucial situation, but Drew Brees found ways to consistently get chunk plays and keep drives alive in Minnesota. They just couldn’t finish those long drives with touchdowns, which is something they have to improve.
.@saints @drewbrees moving the @Vikings #1 defense to take his deep shot. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/devXversqc— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
.@Saints @drewbrees is excellent at this seam throw. If your not willing to make it you are playing scared b/c you are afraid to make a mistake. Scared don’t make no . #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/vn24UMspUZ— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
.@saints establish a rhythm and as the game goes on the defensive establishes a pattern of how to defend and the WHAM/BAM. You break the pattern. Saints are the masters. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Xoe6dnV7cR— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
So it turned out that the Adam Thielen is a very good wide receiver. His coming-out party against the Saints kicked off a season of success for the former undrafted free agent. He finished second only to Julio Jones in receiving yards in the NFC. If the Saints don’t trust Marshon Lattimore to lock him down, we should expect more of the same:
.@saints had no answer in week #1 for @vikings @athielen19 . Is this @shonrp2 game to see if he can shut down the @Vikings favorite WR? #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/HrGRyGTr7g— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
.@saints answer to @Vikings @athielen19 has to be @shonrp2 . If this matchup happens get the ready. Gonna be a doozy. #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/2TmpeCVcJn— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 9, 2018
For the record, I don’t expect the Saints to win this game. Going into the year I was hoping for nine wins and visible progress from the revamped coaching staff and scouting department. We got all that and more, winning a division title and home playoff game. So my personal goals have already been met. Win or lose, I’m just hoping the Saints leave it all on the field and go out in a blaze of glory.