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Vikings Defense Dominant Against Saints Goal-to-Go Situations

Posted Sep 11, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — In five Saints trips to the red zone Monday night, Minnesota’s defense allowed only one New Orleans touchdown.

Even then, the Saints didn’t find the end zone until the final two minutes of the game.

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“We hate when people score,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said after the Vikings 29-19 win. “It’s great when offenses get down there and you can count on the guy next to you to keep them out of the end zone. We all have that same mentality, we all are looking to each other to make a play and come through for each other.”

Kendricks made a number of big stops throughout the evening, finishing with six tackles and a pass defensed. He said it “felt great” to contain a highly touted Saints offense led by Drew Brees.

“We were all communicating well,” Kendricks said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we know that there were going to be looks we didn’t go over [in practice], but the important thing was eliminating the big play, keeping everything in front of us, rallying to the ball and making tackles.

“I feel like we played a pretty complete game, special teams included, and it was fun to be out there with my teammates,” Kendricks added.

On three different occasions, the Saints had a first down from the Vikings 10 or inside and were forced to settle for field goals.

Partway through the second quarter, New Orleans started at first-and-goal from the 9 and ran the ball three times. After a five-yard gain followed by an Everson Griffen tackle that pushed Mark Ingram back for a loss of one, Harrison Smith on third-and-goal stopped Ingram on the 2-yard line.

Smith also recorded six tackles and a pass defensed on the evening.

“We were just playing our responsibilities, nothing crazy. Playing our keys,” Smith said of the effective red zone defense. “It starts with the coaches having a good game plan, and then we have to go out there and execute it on the field. And as a unit, that’s what we did.”

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said shortly after the close of the 2016 season that he intended to put a large offseason focus on plays inside the 5-yard line.

“That was a big emphasis all offseason, goal-line and red zone defense,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “We didn’t play too well in the red zone last year, gave up a lot of touchdowns, and we did a lot better this game. It was about being tight. We didn’t do anything different or try to out-trick them. Line up, play, do your job, read your keys, play fast, play hard and get to the rock. We did that well tonight.”

Practices have proven that Zimmer followed through on his promise, and the extra work paid off in the Monday Night Football showdown.

“We spent a lot of time in the offseason on third-down conversions in red zone. Offensively we got them; defensively we stopped them,” Zimmer said. “Inside the 5-yard line, we spent an awful lot of time this offseason, and it showed why it’s so important tonight.”

Zimmer said the situations that came up throughout the game were ones they’ve practiced and anticipated.

“Even that last one at the end where they did score,” Zimmer said. “The clock was our friend at that point, we were up three scores, so we were just trying to get the clock to wind.”

Defensive end Brian Robison said it felt good to play together as a unit and execute well on situations they’ve been working on throughout the offseason.

He added that the defense demonstrated an edge that was lacking throughout Minnesota’s four preseason games.

“We didn’t have that swagger that we needed in the preseason,” Robison said. “So for us to be able to come out on Monday night – obviously in an electric atmosphere and to be able to show off in front of our fans – was a great start to the season.”

A number of defensive players in the Vikings locker room were quick to share praise with their offensive teammates, as well.

Minnesota’s offense put point on the board throughout the night, adding fuel to the defense that prevented New Orleans from reciprocating.

“At the end of the day, the offensive played great, our special teams played great, so really this was truly a team victory for us,” Robison said.

Smith echoed Robison’s thoughts.

“It was a great team win,” Smith said. “When you’re both playing well off one another and special teams is doing their thing, that creates a good opportunity for us.”