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Opposing Viewpoint: 5 Questions (and Answers) About Saints

The Vikings and Saints will meet for the fifth time in four seasons on Friday in an important game for both teams.

Minnesota is 6-8 and must win to stay in playoff contention. New Orleans in 10-4 and can clinch the NFC South with a victory.

The Vikings are banged up, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer expects his team to be ready to play on Christmas Day.

But what is New Orleans thinking ahead of today's game?

To find that out, Vikings.com chatted with Saints Senior Writer/Digital Media Contributor John DeShazier for a rundown.

Here is the Week 16 edition of Opposing Viewpoint:

First things first, how did future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees look in his return from a four-game absence?

JD: He looked rusty, and not like the Drew Brees were accustomed to seeing. Now, some of that is attributable to Michael Thomas not playing. He's the No. 1 receiver and is on Injured Reserve, and won't play the rest of the regular season. Some of the targets he was going for on Sunday … Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Juwan Johnson … are not guys that Drew Brees is accustomed to throwing the football to. That chemistry was lacking, but still, he did look rusty. There were some throws we're accustomed to seeing Drew Brees make and complete, that he didn't make and complete.

He said he's still working back and said he experienced some discomfort, so he's still working through that process. In the NFL, unfortunately, it's very unforgiving. You can work through the process, but when you do it in the middle of a game against a team like Kansas City, sometimes the process [does] not look as smooth as you would like. Hopefully he'll be a little bit more Drew Brees-like on Friday."

Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.

The Saints have lost two straight games after a nine-game win streak. Is there reason for panic with the Buccaneers still alive for the NFC South, or is there a sense of calm in the Big Easy?

JD: Saints fans always panic, and they never believe the Saints should lose a game. But internally, I know there's no panic because the Saints still control what they can control … they win a game and they win the division and they're guaranteed a home game in the playoffs. They're not necessarily worried as much about Tampa Bay as they are with their own performance these last couple games.

The Philadelphia game is one they admit they didn't show up ready to play from the very beginning. Down 17-0 at halftime, that's not who the Saints are. And this week against Kansas City, the defense showed up. Yeah, they gave up 32 points and gave up 400 yards, but they were on the field for 92 plays … that's about as much as you can expect for a defense to do against that Kansas City offense. There's no internal panic, but fans of course, they want to see their team go 15-1 and 16-0 and will only be satisfied with a Super Bowl. But the team understands you're going to go through rough patches during the season. They're still in control of winning the division, and that's the main thing right now.

New Orleans ranks third defensively with 306.4 yards allowed per game, and is sixth with 21.2 points allowed per game in 2020. What has made that defense so good, and who's a name to watch out for Friday?

JD: They're good because they stop the run. Well, up until these last couple games, they had stopped the run. Minnesota has been able to do it over the years … when you stop the run, you make your opponent one-dimensional and can dictate what happens and just rush the passer, play coverage and win the game that way.

They've been able to make teams one-dimensional by stopping the run, but that's actually ben their Achilles' heel these last couple losses. Philadelphia ran for 246 yards, and then Kansas City went for another 160 or 170. That's not who this Saints defense has been, and not what the defense wants to be. They have to get back to stopping the run.

If you're looking for a name, watch out for C. J. Gardner-Johnson. He's a second-year defensive back and a feisty dude … the type of guy that if he's on your team, you love him … but if you're playing against him, you hate his guts. He's one of those guys … he can rile up and rally his teammates because he plays extremely physical, he chirps a lot, but he backs it up.

He's really good as a slot corner, even though he's kind of a hybrid. They list him as a defensive back because he's not really a safety and can do cornerback things. They're really able to put him in the box, rush him. You can do just about anything you want with him as a defensive back.

View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Saints for Week 16 during practice at TCO Performance Center.

The Vikings have a strong collection of playmakers on offense, but who is the one guy the Saints defense will key on, and why?

JD: Justin Jefferson is fantastic and is probably the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. We know Adam Thielen has been a thorn in the Saints side for several years … big target, great hands, great route runner.

But the Saints are keying on Dalvin Cook, because when they say, "Let Dalvin cook,' they mean it. He is a fantastic runner and was the key to the playoff win [in January] for the Minnesota Vikings. If Dalvin Cook is on the field, he's the key to what they want to do offensively because he keeps them balanced.

Just the threat of him, even if you can stop him from running, you have to devote so much attention to him that it should free up the receivers. He's the guy that has the Saints attention, especially after giving up … more than 400 [total] yards rushing [over the past two games]. They feel like they've got to be able to do something with Dalvin Cook. If you can't stop him, you have to be able to contain him somehow, and you can't let him have the big explosive plays that he's popped off. That's a whole lot easier said than done, but he's where it begins if you're a [defending] Minnesota.

Finally, what does this game mean to New Orleans? Do they want revenge for recent playoff losses to Minnesota, or are the Saints focused on the present and trying to win the division … and catching Green Bay for the NFC's No. 1 seed?

JD: They're focused on the present, and I don't know they believe now they can catch Green Bay because they need so much help. You don't want to put yourself in the position of needing so much help, so now they're concentrating on winning the game Friday — or if it comes to it, winning the last game of the regular season — and winning the NFC South. That's what they can control. They did have the No. 1 seed but lost a couple of games, so they don't have control of that.

Do they want the revenge? Of course they'll say no ... but that's not true. Anybody who played in that [January] playoff game or the 'Minneapolis Miracle' game, you feel some type of way. You're human and you want to beat that team that eliminated you from the playoffs, even if it's a regular-season game. I don't care who you are … yes, they're the next team on the schedule and yes, the Saints need a win … but it happens to be Minnesota, and [the Saints] can't feel great about what Minnesota has been able to accomplish against them the last couple of years.

I'm sure they'll say it's not a rivalry game. And Sean Payton and Mike Zimmer have the utmost respect for one another … those two guys are as close of friends as head coaches can be. But player-wise, of course the Saints want to win this one. You win and get the double byproduct … you beat a team that eliminated you from the playoffs, and you win your division."

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