The New Orleans Saints Christmas Day game this season will forever be remembered as the day that Alvin Kamara danced his way into the endzone six times against the Minnesota Vikings, and the game where the Saints scored 52 points without Drew Brees throwing a single touchdown. That 52-point explosion on offense, however, covered up what was a subpar day for the Saints defense, letting Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins get dangerously close to 300 passing yards and letting him throw for a trio of touchdowns to keep the game interesting throughout most of the contest. Most of the damage done by the Vikings passing attack however, was predictably dealed out by their stud wide receiving duo of noted Saints-destroyer Adam Thielen and stud rookie Justin Jefferson, with Irv Smith also contributing a pair of touchdowns. So, let’s look at how the Saints defense dealt with all three of those players on Friday.
Marshon Lattimore vs Justin Jefferson
Dennis Allen learned his lesson, it seems. After Lattimore let all four of his targets vs Adam Thielen go for catches for a total of 64 yards against Thielen during last year’s playoff meeting between these two teams, he was tasked with stopping the rookie Justin Jefferson this time around, where he put in one of his better performances of the season against the LSU product. While still allowing four catches to Jefferson, Lattimore was targeted eight times and allowed 55 yards, also contributing a pair of pass break-ups as well, as seen below.
Jefferson managed to get loose for a 25-yard gain on Friday to set up a Vikings touchdown in the second quarter, however that was with Jefferson in the slot against Malcolm Jenkins, who had a less than stellar day overall.
Janoris Jenkins vs Adam Thielen
Thielen was the Vikings’ leading receiver on Friday, catching eight passes for 97 yards along with a touchdown. Five of those catches can be attributed to Janoris Jenkins in coverage, who, like many cornerbacks before him, struggled to keep up with the shifty Thielen.
The Saints can actually consider themselves lucky that Lattimore slipped on this play, because he ends up being in the perfect position to knock down Thielen after making this catch. Thielen runs a simple crossing route on this play, shaking Jenkins before getting tripped by Lattimore on play that went for 19 yards and could’ve been a lot more had Lattimore not been in the right place at the right time.
Another crosser as Thielen weaves through defenders to get open on the left side of the field for 24 yards, his longest gain of the day.
Thielen’s touchdown for the day also came with Jenkins in coverage, simply beating him off the line with a flat route, and the ball was in his hands before Janoris could catch up to him.
Irv Smith’s Touchdowns
Lastly, a look at the pair of touchdowns that Vikings tight end Irv Smith caught, the two of them for a combined six yards.
The first touchdown is a case study in the beauty of play action. The Vikings are on the goal line, the Saints are selling out to stop Dalvin Cook and the run, and Smith runs a little underneath route. By the time Demario Davis (listed as man responsible in coverage on this play) realizes what has happened and is scrambling to get back in position, Cousins throws a rather simple pass to Smith, who is wide open in the endzone for his first touchdown of the day.
Hey look at that, it happened again. This time, it’s Malcolm Jenkins getting caught in absolute no-man’s land, biting on the play action and completely losing track of Smith, who catches an easy touchdown for his second of the day.
Luckily for the Saints, the offense was out in full force, because while the Vikings do have a good offense giving up 33 points every game is not a recipe for success and will lead to disaster more times than not. That being said, there are positives as Marshon Lattimore stepped up on Friday and delivered one of his better performances of the season against anyone not named Mike Evans. A lockdown Lattimore will be key for the Saints succeeding in this postseason, especially with it looking likelier and likelier that the road to the Super Bowl includes a trip to Lambeau to take on MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and the NFL’s receiving touchdown leader Davante Adams