EAGAN, Minn. – All Vikings fans want for Christmas is a protected pocket for Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota will kick off the NFL's lone Christmas Day game of 2020 against the Saints in New Orleans at 3:30 p.m. (CT). For the Vikings to have any shot at the playoffs, a win in the Big Easy is crucial.
For this week's Filtered by the Fans Twitter poll, we asked fans to tab the biggest key to a Vikings victory: Minnesota's ground game, slowing down Saints RB Alvin Kamara, protecting the pocket or winning the turnover battle.
The people let their voices be heard.
More than 9,500 fans voted, with 55.7 percent selecting "protecting the pocket."
Cousins has been sacked 15 times over the past four games and been hit 46 total times. The Bucs and Bears combined for nine sacks of the Vikings QB. It's likely this week that Cousins will face just as much pressure from a stout Saints defensive line anchored by defensive ends Cam Jordan – the son of Vikings Legend Steve Jordan – and Trey Hendrickson.
Jordan and Hendrickson have totaled 18.5 sacks between the two of them this season, the latter leading New Orleans and tying for second in the NFL with 12.5.
"They've done a great job with getting pressure, finding ways to get sacks, creating turnovers. They have a lot of players who have played a long time who have earned their stripes in this league," Cousins told Twin Cities media members on Tuesday. "Several of those players have played together in this scheme for a while now. I think all of that lends itself well to them being a great defense. They're a big part of their team's success, and it'll be a big challenge for us."
The Vikings offensive line has helped Minnesota rank fifth overall in total yards per game (387.1) and in rushing yards per game (147.7), but the unit has struggled recently in pass protection and will need to be at its best on Friday.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak spoke to Twin Cities media members on Wednesday and emphasized the tough task his group has against the Saints defense.
"As a staff, as players in this league, [the Saints have] been together a long time. Very talented at what they do," Kubiak said. "They play extremely hard; they run very well. [Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen] does a hell of a job with the group, and they go against a hell of an offense every day, so you can see how they adjust defensively to some tough stuff very easily. So big challenge for us. It's about the third week in a row we really play some top-notch defenses, so it'll be a challenge for us."
Following votes for pocket protection, it was a close race among the other three options.
Minnesota's ground game earned 16.2 percent of the votes. Dalvin Cook has put up career numbers this season, and fans are looking for another big outing.
Cook made his NFL debut against the Saints, racking up 127 yards rushing in Week 1 of the 2017 season. In the Wild Card playoff game this past January, he recorded 28 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns to help Minnesota upset New Orleans at home.
The Vikings and Saints have become quite familiar with each other, as Friday will mark their fifth meeting (including two postseason games) in four seasons.
"We're starting to get a little more familiar with each other," Cook said earlier this week. "I think Friday is going to show what type of game it's going to be. It's going to be another one of those physical, downhill football games. We know them, they know us, and it's going to be another one of those games."
Winning the turnover battle garnered 15.6 percent of the votes, and slowing down Kamara received 12.5.
Kamara is one of the league's best dual-threat running backs, having this season totaled 777 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, plus 739 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Keeping the 25-year-old contained will also certainly be critical for Minnesota's success.
"He's an extremely quick, athletic running back that has great feet," Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said Wednesday. "His running style is a lot like Dalvin: He can make you miss, he can run you over, too, and then he does a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield.
"They can line him up like a wide receiver, he can run routes like a wide receiver, so he's very difficult to defend," Patterson added.