The Minnesota Vikings’ defense has turned things around over the last three weeks in every area.
Following a performance in which Mike Zimmer’s club allowed 556 total yards to the Los Angeles Rams, they have not given up 300 yards through the air or 100 yards on the ground to either the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets.
But this week the Vikings’ defense will be truly tested by an explosive offense for the first time since going up against the Rams.
The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles have some noticeable things in common (beyond a top-notch quarterback): They have a terrific backfield, a complex run attack and a running back who is exceptional in the passing game.
Alvin Kamara averages 4.6 yards per rush and already has 40 receptions at 9.1 yards per catch — a strong follow up to his 86-catch rookie season. Quarterback Drew Brees as a 112.9 rating when throwing his way since Kamara joined the NFL.
In the divisional playoff matchup between the Vikings and Saints, Kamara had four catches 62 yards and one touchdown but only ran 21 times for 66 yards between the opener and playoff game.
“He’s a good runner,” Zimmer said of Kamara. “He reminds me of Eric Dickerson in the way he runs. He’s got a little bit of an upright lean, but he’s physical, catches the ball well out of the backfield, and has got the good stop and starts. None of our players know who Eric Dickerson is, but I do.”
Mark Ingram is the thunder to Kamara’s lightning. While he’s off to a slow start at 3.0 yards per carry, the veteran back averages 4.5 per rush in his eight-year career. And don’t sleep on Ingram in the passing game. He had 60 catches last year at 8.9 yards per catch.
Brees’s NFL NextGen passing chart is filled with excellence, but he has been especially terrific behind the line of scrimmage and that’s largely due to Kamara and Ingram in the passing game.
Interestingly the Vikings were No. 1 in the NFL last year in yards allowed in the passing game to running backs. This time around, they are 24th. In Week 4, Todd Gurley caught four passes for 73 yards. That type of production was rarely seen in 2017.
Football Outsiders wrote a film analysis of RBs’ success against the Vikings this year looking at some holes and miscommunications from the Rams and Eagles games. Author Derrik Klassen wrote:
In every way, the Saints’ offense is crafted to give the Vikings’ defense fits. Considering the Vikings’ defense has struggled versus lesser competition, facing a Saints offense that harps on their biggest issues — pass-catching running backs and explosive plays in the passing game — is the perfect storm to set the Vikings back after two solid performances versus the Cardinals and Jets.
It may be the case that Zimmer irons out the defense’s kinks down the line. With as much talent is on the roster, there is reason to believe things can be turned around as the team fights through the playoff race. Unfortunately for the Vikings, this is likely not the week when the turnaround starts. For now, their defense is a movable object that does not appear prepared to contend with the unstoppable force that is the Saints’ offense.
Like the Rams, the Saints also have one of the most creative minds in the NFL with head coach Sean Payton.
Zimmer described the Saints’ defense as “indiscriminate” and praised Payton’s creativity.
“Call anything at any time,” Zimmer said. “Call anything. Second and one, he might be in no backs. Play action shots on first and possession, it doesn’t matter. Formations, movements, personnel groupings, he doesn’t care. I don’t think he cares about down and distance.”
Here are eight run and quick screen plays to Kamara and Ingram that stand out:
A summary of some of the interesting elements included in the video:
Clip 1: WR/TE/QB/RB Taysom Hill lines up at tight end and blocks across the formation to hit the nickel cornerback.
Clip 2: Left tackle Terron Armstead pulls outside and crushes a cornerback — no easy task for a tackle
Clip 3: Out of bunch formation, quick pass to Kamara, both WR block the single corner and then WR works off to block the safety
Clip 4: Saints go empty formation and Ingram runs a hitch route past the sticks for a first down
Clip 5: Fake end around
Clip 6: Hill, who averages 6.9 yards per carry, hands off on read option
Clip 7: Fake jet sweep
Clip 8: Out of bunch, Hill blocks across formation
The Vikings will have their hands full with the Saints’ run game and passing attack to Ingram and Kamara, but they have shown that it’s possible to limit their impact on the game. Still, with the talent on the field and the Saints’ strong offensive line, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams put up big offensive numbers on Sunday night.