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After Further Review: Vikings Defense Troubles Saints on 3rd Downs

After Further Review is a deeper look at plays or stats after Vikings games…

Minnesota's performance on third downs proved to be a significant aspect of the Vikings limiting the Saints to 20 points — their fewest since Nov. 10 — in Sunday's Wild Card victory.

After allowing a 2-yard run to Taysom Hill on a third-and-1, the Vikings prevented the Saints from converting a third down the rest of the first half. New Orleans, which entered the postseason with a third-down success rate of 42.2 percent (10th in NFL), finished the opening half 1-for-5 and ended 4-for-11 on the day.

The successes in the first half included a sack, an incompletion, a checkdown that was well shy of the sticks and a rare interception thrown by Drew Brees.

Here's a look at those four plays:


Q1, 10:33 remaining — Third-and-goal at the Minnesota 4

The Saints entered the game having scored touchdowns on seven consecutive trips to the red zone and quickly moved inside the Vikings 20-yard line after recovering a fumble at the 37.

The Vikings, however, were up to the challenge of limiting the Saints to a 29-yard field goal.

After New Orleans earned a first-and-goal at the 9, Minnesota responded with a nice tackle of Latavius Murray on first down by Xavier Rhodes and Shamar Stephen.

The Vikings then played a little cat-and-mouse with Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith showing blitz before the next snap. Brees quickly got rid of the ball to Jared Cook, but the quarterback and tight end seemed to be a little off on the placement of the ball/receiving option. Cook secured the catch with a diving catch, and Smith tackled him.

On third down, the Vikings relied on Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter to create pressure from the edge on third down.

Hunter wins his 1-on-1 with right tackle Ryan Ramczyk in a way that might have deterred Brees from throwing to Alvin Kamara and capitalizing on a pick play by Cook that slightly delayed Smith from getting out to the running back.

Griffen executes a flawless spin move on left tackle Terron Armstead, taking advantage of the space created when Linval Joseph moves LG Andrus Peat out of Griffen's way.

Hunter and Griffen converge to share Minnesota's first sack of the day and force the field goal.


Q1, 2:49 remaining — Third-and-6 at the New Orleans 16

The Vikings again want to rely on the athleticism of Griffen and Hunter but opt to kick the defensive ends inside.

Peat is overmatched by the quickness of Griffen's spin move. Griffen creates pressure on Brees, who is unable to deliver a pass to Kamara with accuracy.


Q2, 13:56 remaining — Third-and-9 at the New Orleans 36

Griffen and Hunter are again at the defensive tackle spots with Ifeadi Odenigbo to Griffen's right and Stephen Weatherly on Hunter's left.

New Orleans lines up with Hill and tight end Josh Hill flanking Brees in the shotgun formation, then motions Murray in and sends the Hills to each side of the line of scrimmage.

Murray executes a chip on Griffen, delivering a heavy but clean strike to Odenigbo, who is also working against Armstead.

Griffen beats Peat through the B gap between the left guard and Armstead and applies pressure to Brees; the quarterback is forced to check the ball down to Josh Hill, who is smothered by Barr for a 2-yard gain.


Q2, 2:18 remaining — Third-and-6 at the New Orleans 28

The Saints try to take a deep shot with time waning in the first half.

Minnesota opts to rush just four (Griffen and Hunter from the ends and Odenigbo and Weatherly at the tackle spots) and drop seven defenders into coverage.

Brees drops back all the way to the 19, trying to survey his options, and goes with Ted Ginn on the deepest route. In theory, if the ball is intercepted, it will serve as a punt.

Weatherly pushes right guard Larry Warford back toward Brees, then makes sure to reach his left arm into the air when he sees Brees winding up.

Cornerback Trae Waynes stays on top of Ginn, allowing Anthony Harris to read Brees and take the underneath route to the football.

Harris picks it and is not touched down during the interception. He returns the ball 30 yards to set up Minnesota's first touchdown of the day.