It’s no secret that the matchup to watch Sunday is between the Saints offense and Vikings defense. But on the other side, much has changed since the first meeting back in September. Both teams have made changes in the lineup, whether they be injury or performance-related.
Back on opening night, the Vikings started rookie phenom Dalvin Cook in the backfield next to Sam Bradford. Thanks to a knee injuries, neither will be playing this weekend. Both were critical in that game and paved the way for a Vikings’ victory. Cook led the team in rushing with 127 yards, including a long of 33. Bradford was incredible, going 27 of 32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings were rolling offensively all night long in large part to these two performances.
For New Orleans, the defense has improved drastically since the beginning of the season. Marshon Lattimore was making his first start, but he’s proven to be a stud corner. Opposite Lattimore, De’Vante Harris was torched quite a bit. The duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs balled out. They combined for 16 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
How Minnesota can take advantage
Jerick McKinnon has to be a huge part of the game plan. Pat Shurmur needs to use McKinnon’s speed on linebackers to break big plays down the field. Not to mention, Jet can do this:
Jerick McKinnon 1, Sam Acho 0 pic.twitter.com/Qe6S5pLca5
— Tom Martin (@TomKCTV5) December 31, 2017
The Saints looked weak at times against Carolina, and the Vikings need to exploit those weaknesses early and often. Keenum should stay away from Marshon Lattimore, regardless of who his receivers are lined up with.
Latavius Murray has been solid of late and he should continue to get the bulk of the carries. Mixing Murray and McKinnon will keep the Saints on their toes and open the passing game for Keenum. The Vikings have a great balance of size and speed to control the game. Minnesota matches up well with the Saints defense, especially in the red zone. Murray and Kyle Rudolph provide size while Diggs adds speed to offer several looks down by the goal line.
Hope for New Orleans
The Vikings will be without starting guard Nick Easton, who suffered a fractured ankle at the end of the season. That said, the Vikings will be tinkering with their offensive line to find the best formula. Last week against the Panthers, Cameron Jordan had his way with Matt Kalil. Whoever fills in for the Vikings cannot let him get going again. Keenum has to be protected in his first career playoff start if Minnesota wants to come out on top.
The emergence of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley bodes well for the Saints. I would not expect anything close to the 346 yards and three touchdowns they allowed in Week One.
In total, that Week One game should be completely ignored as reference for this matchup. Both teams are remarkably different and have had time to play together as a unit.
Stay tuned for more on the NFC Divisional round matchup.