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Action Reaction: Vikings Manage Absence of Barr & Rhodes to Limit Saints Offense

MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings welcomed Everson Griffen back to the lineup on Sunday, but the defense was without fellow Pro Bowlers Anthony Barr (hamstring) and Xavier Rhodes (foot) against the Saints.

Minnesota also was without safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) for the third consecutive week, but Sunday's game marked the first time they've ever been without both Barr and Rhodes in the same game since Barr joined the squad as a first-round pick in 2014.

Ultimately, New Orleans prevailed 30-20, with help from a couple of critical mistakes by Minnesota's offense, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said there were multiple positives from the game.

View pregame images as the Vikings get set to take on the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Pregame question: How would the Vikings try to make up for not having the dynamic playmakers on defense against a high-powered Saints offense?

Just as they did after Rhodes left the Week 7 game, Minnesota turned to undrafted rookie Holton Hill at the cornerback spot opposite Trae Waynes.

As for Barr, it was a combination of multiple sub packages. The Vikings opened the game with Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon at linebacker, along with safeties Harrison Smith, George Iloka and Anthony Harris.

Eric Wilson joined Kendricks and Gedeon in base, but the Vikings also alternated with their nickel/"big nickel" defense with corner Mackensie Alexander/safety Jayron Kearse.

Griffen did not start, but he entered the game on the third snap of the game. He rotated with Stephen Weatherly and Danielle Hunter.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Saints under the lights for Sunday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.

In-game action:

The Vikings limited the Saints to 270 net yards and held Drew Brees, the NFL's all-time leader, to his second-lowest yardage total in 197 starts with New Orleans.

Brees finished 18-of-23 passing with 120 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 84.8.

Notoriously hard to sack, the Vikings were able to pressure Brees into the turnover when Weatherly rushed the QB and forced a high throw over the middle that Harrison Smith snagged for his 20th career interception and second in as many weeks.

Backup QB/kickoff returner/tight end/variable Taysom Hill completed the Saints longest pass of the night, a 44-yarder to Michael Thomas, who led New Orleans with 81 yards on five receptions.

Situations of the game, including a fumble returned 54 yards to set up the Saints second touchdown, and a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown, encouraged New Orleans to plod along.

Mark Ingram rushed 13 times for 63 yards, and Alvin Kamara rushed 13 times for 45 yards. Kamara added 31 receiving yards on seven catches, and Ingram had 29 yards on three receptions.

New Orleans only had two plays gain 20 or more yards. Both were catches by Thomas. For comparison, Minnesota had five plays gain more than 20 yards (three catches by Diggs and one each by Thielen and Kyle Rudolph).

Postgame reaction:

Mike Zimmer on the defensive performance:

"For the most part, I thought it was pretty good. Took away their big plays, they're a big-time, shot-play team, and we took those away," Zimmer said. "I thought some of these young guys that came in there played well."

Note: It's a little difficult to comprehensively evaluate individual performances with so many moving parts, so Zimmer will gain a clearer picture from film study.

Harrison Smith on backups stepping in:

"Yeah, I mean, guys came in and played well. That's what's expected," Smith said. "There's no gimmes out here. There's no, 'Oh, you're not a starter, so.' We expect a high level [from everybody]. Proud of those guys, though."

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