EAGAN, Minn. – It likely goes without saying: playing complementary football will be crucial for Minnesota this weekend.
The Vikings are traveling today to New Orleans for tomorrow's Wild Card matchup against the Saints. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. (CT).
But while it's important for all phases to execute at a high level, defending against future Hall of Famer Drew Brees feels especially significant. In a poll posted earlier this week in "Filtered by the Fan," 50 percent of the nearly 18,000 fans who weighed in believe that pass defense is the biggest key to upsetting the Saints.
Brees presents a number of difficulties for opposing offenses. The 19th-year passer has incredible accuracy, topping the NFL for the 2019 regular season with a completion percentage of 74.3 percent. He also has a knack for getting the ball out quickly.
Among passing qualifiers in 2019, Brees' time to throw averaged 2.57 seconds, which was the third-fastest in the NFL behind Andy Dalton (2.51) and Mitchell Trubisky (2.56).
Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter said it's imperative to "have the right move" immediately in order to have a shot against Brees, but he also emphasized the importance of the front seven and secondary working together to buy more time.
"Your first move has to work because he gets rid of the ball so quickly," Hunter said. "Basically, if our DBs do what they need to do … then he'll be able to hold the ball a little bit longer. Let's say he's holding the ball a little bit longer and our first move doesn't work, then we can go to our second move and we'll be able to get to him."
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes also was asked about Brees' ability to unleash throws so quickly.
"We've got to give guys opportunities, like Danielle [and Everson Griffen] to get to him. We know they're going to eat," Rhodes said. "Just go out there and do what they need to do to get the quarterback, sack the quarterback. Once we give them time to get to the quarterback, the sky's the limit."
See photos of the Vikings equipment staff readying the team's uniforms for Sunday's Wild Card showdown with the Saints.
Rhodes knows he has another tall task ahead of him, too – literally.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas measures 6-foot-3 and is known for his physicality.
"As you can see on film, he's pretty aggressive. He's what you call a 'bully' out there on the field," Rhodes told Twin Cities media members on Thursday. He's a great player. He runs great routes. Pushes off at the right time in his routes so the referee can't see it or won't see it. He's crafty. He's really crafty in his routes."
Thomas has been a force to be reckoned with so far this season, leading the league in yards (1,725) and receptions (149). The next-closest is Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 116 catches during the regular season.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said that Thomas seems to catch "everything around him" on game day.
"You see people doubling him, you see people tripling him, and he still finds a way to get the football," Edwards said. "His catch radius has been very strong and consistent throughout the course of the year, but we've got to do some things matchup-wise to work different combinations of things that they'll try to do situationally.
"Our guys will go out and compete, and we'll look forward to the opportunity," Edwards added.
It remains to be seen if Rhodes will be assigned to a matchup with Thomas; regardless of the Vikings approach, keeping the ball out of his hands will be a focus.
"We know that's their guy; everyone knows that's their guy. He's a great player," Rhodes said. "They have a great offense. [We have to] go out there and play fast, play physical, eliminate the big plays, be on our Ps and Qs and stop Drew from being Drew."
The Vikings on Friday ruled out Mackensie Alexander (knee) for Sunday's game. They also announced that cornerback Mike Hughes (neck) was added to Injured Reserve.
Ifeadi Odenigbo (hamstring) is questionable.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, who suffered a quadriceps injury in the Vikings Week 16 game against the Packers, was a full participant in Friday's practice session and should be good to go.
DE Stephen Weatherly (illness), S Andrew Sendejo (illness), S Jayron Kearse (foot), RB Alexander Mattison (ankle), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and DT Shamar Stephen (knee) did not receive statuses on Friday's report.
The Saints ruled out FB Zach Line (knee) and CB Eli Apple (ankle).
Saints S Vonn Bell (knee), S Marcus Williams (groin), Thomas (hand) and RB Dwayne Washington (knee) were full practice participants and did not receive a designation.
Why are the Vikings pass rushers so opposed to getting their hands up when not being able to get to the quarterback? With a short quarterback like Brees, getting the hands up [will] definitely throw off his game.
Thanks for writing in. I think that getting the hands up could be a good approach to try to take away some of the quick passes by the Saints.
We saw in Seattle what that can do when Armon Watts knocked a pass by Russell Wilson, who then accidentally batted it right to Anthony Harris for the pick-six.
I've kind of been amazed generally at how skilled Brees and Wilson are at finding windows to get the passes over and around the trees up front.
Hands are so critical in winning against an offensive lineman on a pass rush that rushers can't do the hand-fighting and get their arms up, but if they realize they're not going to get home to a QB in time, then hands up could be the next-best thing.
"It starts up front on both sides of the ball. The offensive line and defensive line, we have to dominate on the front end. Push the pocket on Brees and get around his feet and do the things we know can affect him. Stop the running game. Just make things happen, but we have to do it for 60 minutes."
– Vikings DE Everson Griffen on keys to success against Saints
Stat of the Week
It's no secret that teams want to start fast and get an early edge on their opponent.
But it's also interesting to look at the numbers and Minnesota's success rate then the team does just that. The Vikings went 7-2 this season when scoring first; when the opponent has scored first , the Vikings have gone 3-4.
In the 2019 regular season, the Vikings ranked 10th in the NFL with 88 points scored in the first quarter; the Saints were tied for eighth with 89.
Additionally, Minnesota is 8-2 when leading at the half and 9-0 when entering the fourth quarter. In games where the Vikings were behind after the third quarter, they are just 1-6.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.
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