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Monday Morning Mailbag: Facing the Saints, Confidence in the Offense and the State of the Vikings O-Line 

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Now that we know we're playing New Orleans, what are your initial thoughts on the matchup?

— Jim from Florida

It took until the final seconds of the final regular-season game in 2019, but the Vikings finally learned Sunday night that they will play the Saints in the Wild Card round. Kickoff from New Orleans is at noon (CT) on Sunday afternoon.

My initial thoughts? This will be a massive test for the Vikings defense, particularly the secondary, going up against quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Brees is a future Hall of Famer, and now leads the NFL in career touchdown passes (547) and passing yards (77,416). Thomas has been a pass-catching machine in his first four seasons, none more so than 2019, when he set a new single-season record with 149 receptions and led the league with 1,725 yards.

Throw in running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, plus tight end Jared Cook and the versatile Taysom Hill, and the Vikings defense will have to be at their best.

Defensively, the Saints are sound across the board. The unit is led by defensive end Cameron Jordan, the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan who set a career-high with 15.5 sacks in 2019. The secondary, led by Marcus Lattimore and Marcus Williams, is also talented.

There are also plenty of surrounding storylines for fans to follow in this one. Sunday will be the fifth postseason meeting between the teams, but the first since the Minneapolis Miracle game on Jan. 14, 2018.

The Vikings are 3-1 all-time against the Saints in the postseason, but fans sure remember the lone loss, which came 10 years ago in the 2009 NFC title game.

These are two strong teams with head coaches who know each other well — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Saints head coach Sean Payton worked together in Dallas from 2003-05.

And they both consider themselves contenders in what is a strong, but possible wide-open, NFC playoff field.

Sunday can't get here soon enough.

So as I sit on my couch awaiting the outcome of the San Francisco and Seattle game to determine who Viking Nation will be playing next week. I can't help but wonder if we will be able to outperform any team in NFC playoffs. My first concern is … can the offense be productive? I think I have seen more three and outs this year than in previous seasons.

It is concerning because if we are not able to string together drives and keep our defense off the field we will lose. Just look at the Green Bay game. Will our offensive line be able to protect Cousins? Can we change up our play calling (move the pocket with rollout and play action). Cousins needs to speed up his internal clock and get rid of the ball quicker. Do you think the starters having this week to rest will help or hurt us? Please let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,

—Tim Leyden in Valparaiso, Indiana

We'll start with your final question first, and say that I agree with the decision to rest starters and other key players in Sunday's regular-season finale — a game that meant nothing to the Vikings playoff chances. Health is often looked at as the top attribute needed to make a deep playoff run. Making sure players such as Kirk Cousins, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith didn't get banged up in Week 17 was of the utmost importance. Extra time also can only help Dalvin Cook and Eric Kendricks.

As for your offensive concerns, it's easy to think that way when the most recent memory of the offense is the clunker against Green Bay. Keep in mind that the Vikings were a top-10 offensive team in terms of yards entering Week 16, and that both Cousins and Cook were in the MVP discussion for most of the season.

There's no doubt that communication and protection along the offensive line will be crucial, especially on the road in hostile environments. While the Vikings won't be going to Seattle, it's worth noting that Cousins was kept clean and was not sacked on Monday Night Football in Week 12. Another performance like that will be needed up front.

Zero [sacks] not only for [Khalil] Mack but the Bears overall. And exactly how deep is that Viking DL? The guys behind the guys behind Hunter, Griff, et al are making plays.

Kahlil Mack stat line — 1 tackle, 1 assist. Period. That's a bet I'd have lost.

Kudos to Dan Bailey. A season where the kicker has been Player of the Week multiple times, and fans aren't holding their breath when Colquitt is holding for points.

In Zim' I trust.

Skol!

— Jeff in Sacramento

Credit to the guys who played offensive tackle for the Vikings on Sunday, a group that included Rashod Hill, Aviante Collins and Oli Udoh. They kept Mack in check.

We hit on Bailey in 5 Takeaways from the game, but it's quite the feat that he finished the 2019 season perfect at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Vikings kicker made all five of his kicks Sunday in Week 17, as he was true on an extra point and four field goals from 34, 37, 38 and 39 yards. He went 14-for-14 on field goals and 21-for-21 on extra points in his second season in the venue that opened in 2016.

And yes, give plenty of credit to the reserves on the Vikings defensive line, as that group played well in place of the starters against the Bears.

Ifeadi Odenigbo has blossomed into a pass-rushing threat, as he finished third on the team with 7.0 sacks on 2019. Jaleel Johnson has also taken a step forward in his development, as he finished the season fourth on the team with 3.5 sacks.

Stephen Weatherly made his presence known Sunday and all season, and Armon Watts went from a sixth-round pick to a dependable role player. Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata'afa also provide strong depth along the line.

The Vikings will surely rely on the likes of the top unit of Hunter, Griffen, Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen in the playoffs. But good teams make deep playoff runs because of depth all over, and Minnesota certainly has that along the defensive line.

It looks like we will be healthy going into our Wild Card game. How did the offensive line play against Chicago? How is their health overall? They are the key to a long run in the playoffs.

— Gerald Goblirsch

As mentioned above, it was obvious the Vikings put a premium on their health Sunday afternoon. And as I referenced in an earlier question, the reserve/young offensive line of Hill, Collins, Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia and Udoh did well.

Overall, the Vikings big boys up front seem as healthy as can be headed to New Orleans. The starting unit turned in 10 different performances in which they allowed one sack or fewer. They will need those kinds of performances for a deep run.

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