A rematch of last year's Divisional Playoff masterpiece, the Saints are returning to US Bank Stadium for Sunday Night Football!
Vikings are winners of 3 straight, with a gritty victory at Philly followed by a couple rookie QB feasts with Rosen's Cards and Darnold's Jets. Saints are winners of 5 straight, thrashing a few lame ducks and enjoying the fruits of opponent kicker Ls in a couple games as well (see Browns and Ravens games...Justin Tucker, my god).
You know that Brees is one of the best ever. WR Michael Thomas is the guy that those executing hindsight are wishing was chosen in the 2016 NFL Draft, instead of Laquon. Cam Jordan is a D-Line demon, the next great master of disruption that will work to harass Kirk Cousins. All that is documented. The following are some #92Noon nugs, thoughts/opinions/bits that you should keep in your head this weekend, leading up to the 7:20ish BOOM on Sunday evening.
1. Thielen can and probably will continue to crush!
-Feels like Adam Thielen smashes again on Sunday night. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore is fantastic, and he will probably be shadowing Stefon Diggs, because Thielen will be inside, outside, rightside, otherside, whateverside with his flexibility. So Stefon will have to work for his as Lattimore has found his groove, allowing just one touchdown since the season opening ass-kicking Tampa Bay put on the "Who Cares" nation at Superdome. If that is indeed the case...thoughts and prayers for Ken Crawley, PJ Williams, Justin Hardee and newly acquired Eli Apple from the Giants if he plays...maybe even former Vikings CB Josh Robinson who was signed by the Saints earlier this month (in his two games with NO, zero defensive snaps for Josh)! The Saints defense has only 2 picks this year, allows 69% and 8.7yds/attempt to opposing QBs, & is bottom five in passing yards allowed (294/game). This is not the game where those awful numbers make a massive rebound. Thielen gets 100-plus again.
2. But don't forget about running the rock.
-We're all happy for the Saints and their suddenly stout run defense.... In six games, they've surrendered just 72yds/game total at 3.1/carry. It's working for them right now. Wonder if this is aided by high-scoring shootouts and lopsided box scores. But this is a game where the Vikings NEED to win time of possession and control things. HOT TAKE COMING: Keep the ball away from Brees and the offense, and you have a chance to win the game. Took a lot of research to determine that...so commit to the run. While we all hope Dalvin gets healthy and on the field, Latavius Murray is offering 4.7yds/carry in his absence and the Vikings will need that to continue. This is a game where center Pat Elflein needs to play angrier than usual to dominate interior D-Liners Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davidson. Yards on inside runs can be had in this game on Sunday night and Vikings need to take every single one of them. The Bucs, Ravens and Browns are the top-3 rushers against the Saints this year. The Bucs beat them, the Browns missed a game-tying kick late and the Ravens missed an extra point from forcing overtime. Running the ball slows everything down, which is a good thing for the home team this weekend.
3. Anthony Barr and Xavier Rhodes dealing with injuries...what does it mean?
-First, Anthony Barr's hamstring might keep him sidelined on Sunday. By the way, tide has certainly turned on public opinion regarding Anthony since the Rams game hasn't it? Maybe that's because Barr has been fantastic during the 3 game win streak. If he can't go, get to know 2017 undrafted LB Eric Wilson. We've heard nothing but positive things regarding his development and evolution from the offseason OTAs to now, and he'll have his chance to prove it. He's fast and can certainly keep up in nickel situations with Eric Kendricks as the two linebackers, but does he feel the game and know Zimmer's defense well enough to stand tall in a big spot? It's like a coin flip that Anthony plays or sits. Eric Wilson will be the guy if Anthony can't play.
-In the Miracle game, Xavier had a tough second half against Michael Thomas, who had two scores. Redemption? Xavier's current ankle situation might remove him from the equation altogether on Sunday, so Holton Hill will have his chance to compete. We all assume that means Trae Waynes will match up with Thomas while Hill handles alternate duties. Holton, undrafted from Texas, was just fine against a rookie Jets QB with a 20pt advantage last weekend. Brees will find him and try to exploit him all night long. Rookie WR Tre'Quan Smith is someone the Saints like and can stretch the field, has some boom or bust to him, and might be Hill's running mate. I'd prefer a healthy Rhodes 10-of-10 times, but kind of excited to see the fight-or-flight response from Holton Hill as he gets put in a huge spot. He's at his best in man coverage. Kids gotta grow up.
4. Getting to Drew Brees.
-Brees hasn't thrown a pick since the first half of the Miracle game. Everson Griffen tipped a pass at the line and Anthony Barr easily grabbed it. They were deep in Vikings territory at the time, which was a gigantic swing as part of the 17-0 halftime advantage.....in 2018, Brees has only been sacked 9 times in 6 games, offering 13TDs in substitution of throwing it to the other team. He has a couple tackles on the OLine that we would salivate over right now with Terron Armstead on the left and former Badgers stud Ryan Ramczyk on the right. OK, we'll just have to knock down the front door, then.
-Saints center Max Unger is fine. He's alright. Typical LG Andrus Peat is returning from concussion protocol and they just put another guard, Josh LeRibeus, on IR. Yet another guard, Jermon Bushrod, hasn't practiced this week but he never plays anyway. This is one of those games where Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, maybe move Stephen Weatherly inside at times(if Everson plays?), periodic blitzes, etc, can get home against a battered interior. Brees can scramble, but he isn't a runner, which means Richardson and the interior D-Liners on our team can earn their paychecks by getting upfield quickly and moving Brees from his spot.
5. Everson impact?
-Really getting excited about the prospect of Everson playing Sunday night!!! From my viewpoint, I liken Griffen's return to Khalil Mack playing his first game for the Chicago Bears at Lambeau week 1. Keeping in shape, top-end player, but hasn't actually taken contact or even practiced in more than a month. Mack had a monstrous first half, tailed off later in game and eventually found himself chasing Randall Cobb down the field in vain as the Packers made the miraculous comeback against Chicago. If he's active and in the mix, Griffen will thrive off the US Bank Stadium vibe. Managing his snaps and energy level will be part of keeping him engaged and effective for the entire game. But if he plays, I just can't see how Zimmer doesn't put him right back in his normal spot and set him loose for a fair amount of snaps.
Ultimately, the Vikings just need to put together the most complete home performance of the 2018 campaign thus far. Niners game was professional, Bills game was embarrassing, Cards game was bullish in the run with a side of DULL-ish in the overall gameplay. Let's get Kirk and the passing game flying high in front of the fanbase, but stay committed to running Latavius and own time of possession. The higher the scoreline, advantage goes to the Saints. The Vikings don't want a 40-40 shootout. Grind the gears, slow it down and cash in on RedZone chances(Saints D hideous in RZ). Vikings 3rd down defense is historically good again so far, but that won't matter if Brees is smacking us for 25yd chunk plays to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Pat Elflein will be key to the Vikings O-Line, and I think Sheldon Richardson is the key to the Vikings D-Line...these are both matchup advantages for the purple. As much as we can have fun remembering the Miracle, I'm mostly pumped about beating the Saints this weekend and moving our way up the ladder for eventual playoff seeding.
It's a night game, so start pre-gaming early on Sunday. Get lubed up (responsibly), party on (safely), conserve your voice for the boom (nah), take Monday off work and hopefully tune in to a victory montage at 9am following a giant W (Curtis Mayfield, probably).