September 11, 2017 seems like a lifetime ago. Fresh off their third straight 7-9 season, the New Orleans Saints were cautiously optimistic about their off-season acquisitions and 2017 draft class. This wide-eyed roster was greeted into the new year by a juggernaut and one of the most feared teams in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings. Despite only losing by 10 points, the game never had the feel that it was a close contest with the Saints being more than a score away for most of the game.
Five Things You Won’t See in the New Orleans Saints Rematch With the Minnesota Vikings
As fate would have it, the Saints have risen to play among the cream of the crop in the NFC and have landed right back where they started the year, in Minneapolis. Although the uniforms will look the same as in week one, the casts and character of these two teams is virtually unrecognizable from their previous battle. To validate the point, here are five things you won’t see in Sunday’s rematch.
The Vikings Won’t Have the More Accurate Passer
Week one saw Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford light up the brand new Saints secondary to the tune of 27/32 for 346 yards passing and three touchdowns (no interceptions). Bradford has made a career out of using his accuracy as his ally and this game was no exception. The former single-season completion percentage record holder had time, worked through his reads and picked the Saints apart. With Bradford now on injured reserve and Case Keenum at the helm, duplicating similar numbers won’t be quite so easy, especially with Cameron Jordan playing at an All-World level.
The Saints have their own dart-thrower on the other sideline in quarterback Drew Brees. The current single-season completion percentage record holder should have his share of open looks as the Vikings are expected to key in on the ‘Boom and Zoom’ running attack of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The seven and eight man fronts should result in exploitable man opportunities, provided the depleted offensive line can hold up.
De’Vante Harris Won’t Be Losing Receivers in the Secondary
While the secondary as a whole looked a bit confused in their week one loss to the Vikings, no defensive back looked more out of place than De’Vante Harris. The Vikings continued to target Harris as the game progressed and the Saints made no adjustments. In fact, as a result of this eye-opening game, Harris’ snaps went from 70 percent in week one to 29 percent in week two. After week three, Harris was cut.
Since week two, the Saints secondary has become a different animal. The combination of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley along with Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell have solidified the back end of the defense for New Orleans. Contributions by P.J. Williams and the IR-stationed Kenny Vaccaro have rounded out an uncharacteristically solid Saints secondary.
The Vikings Won’t Be Setting Any Rookie Rushing Records
This one is pretty obvious. With the season-ending injury to Dalvin Cook, this possibility comes off the board. The point, however, is not about the word “rookie” so much as it’s about the damage done by the position. Cook’s 22 carries for 127 yards were not only a great day at the office for the youngster, but also the nail in the coffin in the Saints season-opener. Most of Cook’s yardage came late in the game when the Saints defense expected it. The Vikings offensive line, in conjunction with Cook, continued to eat up chunks of yardage and repeatedly moved the chains.
One of the biggest surprises this season, especially when addressing the run defense, has been Manti Te’o. Te’o has continued to impress as the season has worn on and the Saints finished the season 16th in the league against the run. While it doesn’t sound impressive, consider the amount of injuries the Saints have suffered, particularly on the defensive line and at the linebacker positions.
The Vikings 88.5 rushing yards per game in Cook have been replaced by Latavius Murray and his 52.6 rushing yards per game.
The Saints Won’t Be Uncertain About Their Rushing Attack
One of the biggest off-season splashes in the NFL was the Saints’ acquisition of running back and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. Between the resume of Peterson, the returning 1,000-yard rusher in Ingram and the pre-season phenom Kamara, New Orleans had the “three-headed monster” in the backfield. As the game progressed, the balance of carries looked forced and none of the running backs for New Orleans could get into any sort of rhythm. As a result, Peterson, Kamara and Ingram finished with rushing totals of 18, 18 and 17 yards respectively.
If there is one thing we now know about the 2017 Saints, it’s that they know how to run the football. Once New Orleans traded Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals, Sean Payton and the coaching staff optimized production from Ingram and Kamara to the point where they became the first running back duo in league history to both have at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
The Saints Won’t Be as Reliant on the Tight End Position
Coby Fleener led the Saints in week one with five receptions, 54 receiving yards and had the only touchdown in the losing effort. Fleener, a reliable offensive weapon when given the opportunity, has since gone on injured reserve and is gone for the season. Josh Hill has since taken over as the primary target at tight end. While Hill has been serviceable and played well last week against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC wild card game, he does not bring the same offensive firepower that Fleener can. Expect the tight end to be used far more as additional blocking for the Saints running attack than a weapon through the air.