Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Saints prepare to battle.
1. Vikings Look to Get Running Game Back on TrackThe absence of Adrian Peterson does not diminish the importance of the Vikings getting their running game back on track. In their Week 1 win, the Vikings ran 30 times for 186 yards and one touchdown, but in the Week 2 loss the Vikings only rushed for 54 yards on 19 carries. Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerick McKinnon and Cordarrelle Patterson must be relied upon to get the Vikings running game back on track, which will keep a New Orleans Saints defense, which ranks 28th in points allowed and 21st in rushing yards allowed, off-balance.
2. Two Teams Looking to Reverse Turnover TrendFootball can be looked at like a giant game of keep away. Possessing the ball, and taking care of the ball while you possess it, is essential because team's typically get only 10-12 possessions per game. After points scored, turnover margin is the single biggest indicator of wins and losses in the NFL. The Vikings and Saints are illustrations of this point. In Week 1, the Vikings were 2 in turnover margin and they won. In Week 2, the Vikings were -4 in turnover margin and they lost. The Saints have been -1 and -2 in turnover margin in their first two games, and they've gone 0-2. Both the Vikings and Saints will be looking to reverse their turnover trend so far this season, and whichever team does it the best on Sunday will likely win the game.
3. TE Trouble: Gronkowski Last Week, Graham This Week
Last week against New England, the Vikings defense was tasked with slowing down TE Rob Gronkowski, one of the best players at his position in the NFL. The Vikings did a pretty good job, holding Gronkowski to four receptions for 32 yards. This week, the Vikings defense is tasked with slowing down *the *best TE in the NFL – Jimmy Graham. The Vikings will have plenty of tape to study as they prepare to tackle this task because Graham has been destroyed his first two challengers, hauling in eight receptions for 82 yards against the Falcons in Week 1 and 10 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns last week.
4. Can Harrison Smith Stay Hot?Vikings S Harrison Smith was thought to be a great fit in Mike Zimmer's defense because of his diverse skill set – he's good in coverage, can come up into the box and play the run, and is an effective blitzer. But somehow Smith, while playing well, was under the radar during training camp and preseason, mostly because the things Smith is best at you can't really do to your teammates in training camp and preseason action is limited. Smith has been anything but under the radar through two regular season games. He had a pick-six, sack and tackle for loss against the Rams, and in Week 2 against New England he had 13 tackles, including a bone-jarring hit on running back Stevan Ridley on a 3rd and 1 play. Smith staying hot on Sunday will give the Vikings a big boost as they look to log their second road victory of the season.
5. Return to Resiliency Key for Vikings in this Road ContestOne key aspect of winning on the road is being resilient. Often times, the energy that comes with playing in front of your fans gives the home team an added boost that propels them to a quick start or a series of unanswered scores. If the road team can be resilient during that charge, gather itself, and then fight back, a road victory can be within reach. The Vikings have been a resilient bunch under Zimmer and they will need plenty of that resiliency while battling the Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.