In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It's hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I'm sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Saints preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
With kickoff fast approaching, here are a few final thoughts on today's Vikings-Saints contest.
How to Take In Today's Game Game Time: 12:00 p.m. CT TV:FOXRadio:Vikings Radio Network; KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130Mobile:NFL Mobile (exclusively on Verizon)
Vikings Must Win vs. Man CoverageExpect the Saints to play a lot of man coverage today. It's not a matter of the Vikings knowing this nor are the Saints under any illusion that the Vikings won't plan for this. But the key for Vikings receivers is winning versus that man coverage. Vikings receivers didn't do that enough last week against New England's defense and the results showed, as the Vikings netted just 163 yards passing and saw QB Matt Cassel sacked six times. One who did beat man coverage a few times, though, was TE Kyle Rudolph, and he could be asked to do so again today against the Saints defense, particularly if New Orleans uses a linebacker to try and check him.
Red Zone ResultsThe Saints offense is hard to stop from anywhere, but they are particularly lethal in the red zone. New Orleans has seven touchdowns in 10 red zone possessions, good for seventh in the NFL. The Vikings defense, though, has been impressive in the red zone, too, allowing just one touchdown in five possessions. The combination of athleticism and size possessed by TE Jimmy Graham makes him arguably the best red zone threat in the NFL, and it'll be a challenge for the Vikings to stop him if New Orleans gets inside the 20. Conversely, the Vikings offense has two touchdowns in three red zone drives and the Saints defense has been leaky inside the red zone, allowing five touchdowns in seven red zone drives. Whichever team can turn the red zone trend in their favor will have a step up in this contest on Sunday.
Don't Forget About Zimmer's DefenseThe loss of Adrian Peterson was certainly unexpected and leaves a production vacancy in the Vikings lineup. But let's not forget about how improved the Vikings defense looks under head coach Mike Zimmer. As much as the loss on offense was unexpected and looms large, the significant jump Zimmer's defense has made to this point is also a surprise to many (not me) and should help the team compensate for the loss of an ace on offense.
A Thought for Tipping Turnover MarginIt is imperative that the Vikings win the turnover battle today. New Orleans was 8-0 at home last season and today marks their 2014 home opener. You can be sure they'll be primed for today's game and are eager to get back on the winning track. Winning on the road is difficult on its own, but if you lose the turnover battle on the road then winning becomes nearly impossible. The Vikings must be smart with the ball on offense and must be calculated on when they take their chances. When behind the chains and/or backed up deep in your own territory, it is not wise to take chances down the field, as the Vikings did last week against New England on Cassel's first interception. The key for the Vikings offense, particularly early in today's game, is to live to see another series, accept a punt as a positive result sometimes, play the field position game, and try to stay in the game into the second half.
Looking for Explosive RunsWith Peterson out of the lineup, the Vikings must find a way to replace his production of explosive runs (runs of 12 yards). The question is: Do the Vikings use their normal run game/blocking scheme or do they get creative in trying to produce explosive runs? If the Vikings choose the creative route, perhaps we'll see Patterson in the backfield or utilized once again on the jet sweeps. Or we could see rookie Jerick McKinnon used more, perhaps even on direct snaps. Bubble and smoke screens – aka extended handoffs – could be used, as well. No matter how the Vikings do it, they must find a way to remain an explosive team on the ground to keep the opposing defense off-balance.