EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings rested numerous starters in their regular-season finale against the Bears, giving players a chance to rest, recover and get as healthy as possible for the playoffs.
That includes linebacker Eric Kendricks, who suffered a quad injury in Week 16 against Green Bay and likely wouldn't have played Sunday due to his injury.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked at his weekly Wednesday press conference if he feels a week off helped Kendricks' chances of being ready for the upcoming Wild Card game against the Saints.
"I think so," Zimmer said.
If Kendricks is able to go, it's likely that he'll be tasked with keeping an eye on Alvin Kamara, something the Vikings linebacker has done in previous matchups.
The versatile Saints running back played in 14 games in 2019, rushing 171 times for 797 yards and five scores. He was second on the team with 81 receptions and tallied 533 yards and a touchdown.
Zimmer on Wednesday explained what makes Kamara so dangerous on the field:
"He's extremely shifty in the way he runs, but he's a physical runner, as well," Zimmer said of Kamara, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds. "Catches the ball out of the backfield, runs good routes.
"The thing that impresses me is that, not very often does one guy bring him down. He steps on the tackles, he's got the limp leg, so he does a really good job with that," Zimmer added. "And even in the middle of the field, perimeter, he can go the distance like he did last week against Carolina."
Kamara had a pair of rushing touchdowns in Week 17 against the Panthers, including a 15-yard scamper up the left sideline.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. A look at the Saints LBs
A few years back, the Saints were known as a high-octane offensive team that featured a defense that was susceptible to giving up big plays and a bevy of points.
New Orleans still has the firepower on offense, but the defense has also improved in recent seasons.
Zimmer pointed to the play of linebackers A.J. Klein and Demario Davis with helping the turnaround.
"They've made a lot of progress, they're much better. I think [it is] personnel," Zimmer said. "You know, Klein is playing good for them. Davis is playing really good, I think."
Klein is in his third season with the Saints, while Davis is in his second season in New Orleans.
Zimmer explained how Davis, an eight-year veteran, has impacted the Saints defense.
"He's always, typically on the end of the line, so being able to get him blocked on the point of the attack is going to be big for us," Zimmer said. "I think he's done a great job; I think he's done a great job of adding on the pressures that they run.
"He's done a good job on being in coverage for the check-downs," Zimmer added. "We've got all kinds of problems this week."
2. Keeping an eye on Cook
The Saints offense has a variety of playmakers, with Jared Cook near the top of the list.
The veteran tight end turned in a career year as he has 43 catches for 705 yards and nine touchdowns. The 32-year-old had the third-most receiving yards of his career, but set a career-best by averaging 16.4 yards per catch.
Cook also set a career-high with nine scores, which matched the combined total of his previous three seasons.
Cook was a third-round pick by Tennessee in 2009 and played the first four seasons of his career with the Titans. He then played three years with the Rams and one season with the Packers before almost becoming a Viking.
Minnesota had Cook in for a free-agent visit in March of 2017, but Cook eventually ended up with Oakland, where he played two seasons. The 2019 season was his first with the Saints.
"He's playing really well. He's got a great catch radius, has made a lot of big plays for them," Zimmer said. "They do a nice job of scheming him open, but he's running well, he's catching the ball well.
"He looks better than I remember him a few years back," Zimmer added.
3. Readying for 'excellent' football team | by Lindsey Young
Zimmer addressed a handful of individual New Orleans players, as noted above, but he also opened his press conference by emphasizing the Saints talent across the board.
"Excellent football team, well-coached, really aggressive defensively," Zimmer said. "[They do] a good job on special teams — they blocked two punts this year. They run some fakes, so we're going to have to be on point with all those.
"Offensively, obviously, they're a fast-paced, fast-tempo team with a great quarterback, receivers, good backs, good offensive line, tight ends," he added. "So we'll keep preparing and get ready to roll."
You can bet Minnesota won't be underestimating a very strong No. 3 seed.
As a reminder, the Saints are just the third 13-3 team to play in the Wild Card round since 1990, when the NFL expanded to a six-team field for each conference. The other two teams to fit the situation? The 2011 Saints, who advanced to the Divisional round and lost to San Francisco, and the 1999 Titans, who advanced to Super Bowl XXXIV.
Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.
4. Keeping the focus on here-and-now | by Lindsey Young
The Vikings are focused on the fast-approaching Wild Card game in hopes of advancing to the Divisional round. They're not looking back, and they're not looking too far ahead.
Zimmer was asked two questions Wednesday that tied only loosely to Sunday's game at New Orleans but didn't take his eyes off the road.
When asked about the Minneapolis Miracle game from the Divisional round matchup against the Saints on Jan. 14, 2018, Zimmer didn't hesitate.
"C'mon, man. We're concentrating on the Saints this week," he said. "We don't care about three years ago or whatever it was."
And later, a question surfaced about the "importance level" of quarterback Kirk Cousins performing well in the postseason in order to rewrite a negative narrative.
"The importance level," Zimmer responded, "is to play well this week, and we'll worry about long-term and all those other things later on.
"We're here to focus on the Saints and go down to New Orleans," he added.