The Minnesota Vikings head across the pond to London to take on the New Orleans Saints in the NFL’s first international game of the season. Although they squeaked out a win against the Detroit Lions last week, the Vikings were far from perfect. They will need to get their offense going early and firm up the defense if they hope to return to America 3-1.
Minnesota may be catching the Saints at the right time. New Orleans has gotten off to a sputtering 1-2 start. Their lone victory was a narrow one-point win over the lowly Atlanta Falcons. They’re also depleted by injury; star receiver Michael Thomas has been ruled out, and Andy Dalton will likely start in place of Jameis Winston, who is hindered by back and ankle trouble.
Regardless of the Saints’ woes, this game is no cakewalk for a Vikings team that’s been wildly inconsistent to start the season. Here are three things the Saints do well that Minnesota needs to watch out for.
Blitz the Quarterback
Since Dennis Allen took over the Saints this past offseason, we have seen much more emphasis placed on their defense. New Orleans’ offense hasn’t shown up so far this season, but their defense has played at a very high level. After a shaky first half against the Falcons in their opener, the Saints have been downright stingy.
Allen’s mentality seems to be in direct opposition to Ed Donatell’s. Instead of playing a shell defense, Allen loves to send the pressure. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, Allen had his defense blitz quarterback Baker Mayfield on 48% of his dropbacks.
Kirk Cousins has struggled against the blitz this season, with a 47.7 passer rating and two interceptions. We saw how shaky Cousins looked when Philadelphia pressured him on Monday Night Football. The Eagles defense constantly put him on his back foot and kept him under duress.
Minnesota’s offensive line has been good to start the season. However, Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland have struggled in pass protection. If Allen and the Saints’ defense can identify this on tape, expect them to take full advantage. They will likely plan multiple blitzes and stunts to attack the Vikings’ guards in pass protection.
Spread the Ball Out
While the Saints’ offense has faltered in the first three weeks of the season, it isn’t for the lack of talent. Star wideout Michael Thomas has struggled to stay on the field, though, and the remainder of the Saints’ receivers room had been sub-par.
However, the coaching staff and front office made it a priority to get complementary pass-catchers and take some attention off Thomas. They were aggressive in the draft, moving up five spots to take talented wide receiver Chris Olave. So far, Olave has impressed in his first three games, leading the team in targets (29), catches (17), and yards (268).
Late in the offseason, New Orleans added former LSU receiver Jarvis Landry after the Cleveland Browns released him. Landry is a dangerous weapon operating out of the slot.
These three pass-catchers are very impressive, but Alvin Kamara‘s ability out of the backfield takes them over the top. Kamara can use his shiftiness and speed as a real threat out of the backfield in the receiving game, often proving a mismatch against even the best coverage linebackers. Even without Thomas and with a backup QB, the Saints offense can still be dangerous.
Cover pass catchers
The Saints have allowed an average of 183.7 passing yards per game to start the year. That might be related to their ability to blitz successfully and play aggressively, or it could also be the subpar quarterbacks they have faced, Tom Brady aside. Still, the minimal yardage they have allowed through the air is impressive. (And they did face Brady, after all.)
The Saints’ ability to limit what teams do through the air is impressive, but they have been very susceptible to opposing ground games. They have allowed an average of 139.3 rushing yards, making them the league’s seventh-worst rushing defense. If the Vikings want to exploit the pass defense and soften the heavy blitzes the Saints send their way, they will need to run a ball early and develop play action to give Cousins some extra time.