The Vikings started the preseason 1-0 when they defeated the Saints 34-25 last night on the road.
Minnesota’s first-team offense started the game fast, and the reserves had a strong outing throughout the remainder of the evening, including three offensive rookies finding their way into the end zone.
Second-year running back Mike Boone sealed the deal for Minnesota with a 64-yard rushing score, and the defense got in on the fun, as well. Cornerback Nate Meadors took advantage of “right place, right time” and turned a bobbled catch by tight end Dan Arnold into a pick-six.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was relatively pleased with his team’s first performance of 2019 but said penalties must be cleaned up in order to be successful.
Here are three stats that stood out:
1. Four sacks by young DL, two negated by penalties
Zimmer had said during the week that although he is personally proud of Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery and return to the field, the Vikings would treat him like any other opposing quarterback Friday night.
Minnesota certainly did so, pressuring the former Viking early and often.
Second-year defensive tackle Jayln Holmes, who started in place of Shamar Stephen, sacked Bridgewater twice, the first time occurring late in the first quarter. The takedown occurred on third-and-6 and should have forced a Saints field goal then and there, but the sack was wiped out due to a defensive holding penalty on Trae Waynes. New Orleans did end up kicking a field goal a few plays later.
Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo left the game due to injury early in the second quarter but returned two plays later, during which he rushed the passer and sacked Bridgewater for a loss of 5. A defensive holding penalty by cornerback Duke Thomas, however, gave New Orleans a first down at the Minnesota 39.
Fortunately for the Vikings, their second two sacks of the game held and made it onto the defensive stats sheet.
Second-year defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, who spent all of last season on Injured Reserve, got in on the action and sacked Bridgewater for a loss of 8 on that same drive. The play helped the Vikings clamp down on the Saints and force another field goal by Wil Lutz.
Holmes got to Bridgewater again five minutes before halftime. A third-down sack for a loss of 10 yards resulted in a Saints three-and-out.
Young defenders made plays throughout the night for Minnesota. The team’s leading tackler was rookie linebacker Cam Smith, who had six (four solo) in addition to a special teams tackle.
View images as the Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Friday night.
2. Five-of-seven third downs converted
Zimmer puts an emphasis on situational football, and it has paid off.
The Vikings converted five of seven third downs (71 percent) Sunday, compared to the Saints being successful on six of their 12 attempts (50 percent).
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins made a point earlier this week to say that it was important to “convert that first third down,” and he made sure it happened.
On a third-and-9 early on Minnesota’s first drive, it appeared that the play had broken down and Cousins would be sacked, but the quarterback took off running. Cousins scrambled for 10 yards before sliding safely beyond the chains.
Johnson’s touchdown grab occurred on a third-and-4 from the New Orleans 18.
A four-yard run by Alexander Mattison on third-and-2 late in the second quarter kept the Vikings marching into Saints territory, but a fumble by Ameer Abdullah later that drive was recovered by New Orleans.
The Vikings punted two times on the night and only went three-and-out on one occasion.
3. Bailey perfect on PAT attempts
The Vikings scored five touchdowns in New Orleans and never attempted a field goal.
Kicker Dan Bailey still got a chance to shine, however, and was perfect on four point-after-touchdown attempts. (Note: A 2-point conversion attempt by Kyle Sloter was unsuccessful.)
Throughout the offseason, Bailey has worked with a few different holders (most often punter Matt Wile) in addition to long snappers Kevin McDermott and rookie Austin Cutting, who are vying for the active roster position.
Wile served as the holder on all four extra-point attempts. Cutting snapped on the first two, and McDermott snapped on the second two.
Bailey kicked off six times, averaging 64.5 yards per boot. His longest was a 70-yard kick to open the second half.