Stefon Diggs Stars as Vikings Down Adrian Peterson, Saints to Open Season

Adrian Peterson returned to Minnesota as a member of the Saints, but his homecoming didn’t provide much cause for celebration. Insted, it was Stefon Diggs and Sam Bradford crashing the party and leading the Vikings to a season-opening win over the Saints.
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The Minnesota Vikings unleashed a shockingly explosive offense in their 29-19 victory against the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. Here are five thoughts from the first part of the Monday Night Football doubleheader.

1. The game was billed as an Adrian Peterson homecoming party. It turned into a Stefon Diggs coming-out party instead. On a night when Randy Moss was inducted to the Vikings’ Ring of Honor at halftime, Diggs also managed to pay homage to the legendary talent. The third-year wideout wore custom Moss cleats, he had a Moss-inspired touchdown celebration and became the first Vikings wideout to catch two touchdowns in a season opener since—you guessed it—Moss.

Diggs himself is a tantalizing talent. He’s a great route runner and has strong ball-tracking skills. He also proved that he is human Stickum, as he made some simply absurd catches against an outmatched Saints secondary. I mean, look at all of thesehighlight-reelgrabs.

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Diggs finished the game by converting his eight targets into seven catches, 93 yards and two scores.

He racked up 372 yards in the first four games of 2016 before suffering a lower-body injury. If Diggs can stay healthy, he’s a big-time talent who will force opposing defenses to key on him. The Vikings appear to have a star-in-the-making on the outside, something they haven’t had at the position in a long time. 

2. A big topic of interest this offseason in New Orleans was how the Saints would split the carries among their three-headed backfield monster of Peterson, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The first game results were not encouraging for Peterson, as he was an uncomfortable fit in the Saints’ offense scheme.

Peterson saw five snaps out of 33 plays in the first half, and all of them came with Drew Brees under center. It didn’t improve much in the second half, either. On the Saints’ first drive in the second half, Peterson finally got a shotgun snap, but was motioned to the outside on a play that resulted in Brees getting sacked. Peterson ended the game with nine snaps out of 62 per Pro Football Focus, which was a career-low. That number was also much fewer than Kamara's 31 and Ingram's 26. Peterson finished with a mere 18 yards on six carries, and more questions about his future role in the offense than answers. 

Whenever Peterson was in, it was almost a tell of what New Orleans was going to do. Another bad sign for the 32-year-old veteran is that it was Ingram and Kamara that were getting the run on red-zone snaps. ESPN cameras even showed Peterson barking and staring down Saints coach Sean Payton. This could be a square-peg-in-a-round-hole kind of situation to monitor going forward.

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3. While we may have to take it with a grain of salt since it came against the Saints’ defense, which continued to resemble an abyss despite the offseason trope suggesting otherwise, but the Vikings’ offense looked legitimately good to start the season.

Sam Bradford threw multiple darts in the face of pressure, hitting his receivers in stride despite the pocket closing in around him. This wasn’t dinking and dunking either, these were legitimate dimes down the field.

The drive that was most impressive from Bradford stretched 74 yards on three plays. The first play of that second-quarter drive saw Bradford take advantage of Manti Te’o in coverage, patiently connecting on a 35-yard pass to Adam Thielen against a Saints’ three-man rush. The following play, the Saints changed it up by blitzing. Rookie tailback Dalvin Cook had a nice blitz pickup, but Bradford still made a big-time throw under pressure, throwing a 21-yard laser to Jarius Wright to bring the Vikings into the red zone. The scoring play of the drive was also his easiest pass of the drive, with the Saints biting badly on a play-action and leaving Diggs wide open in the end zone.

Bradford finished with a remarkable stat line, completing 27 of his 32 throws for 346 yards—for an un-Bradford-like 10.8 YPA—to go along with three scoring tosses.

While Diggs was the main headline in the receiving corps, Thielen also emerged as a formidable pass-catcher by accumulating 157 yards on nine catches. Cook ran for 127 yards, breaking Adrian Peterson’s record for most rushing yards by a Vikings rookie in his debut. Tight end Kyle Rudolph added a touchdown that served as the dagger in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings’ offensive line is still a big question mark, but the team certainly has viable weapons littered throughout the offense.

4. The Saints rolled out first-round rookie left tackle Ryan Ramczyk with starter Terron Armstead (shoulder) inactive for the contest. In the first half, starting right tackle Zach Strief left the game with a lower leg injury and didn’t return. With backups serving as the bookends along the offensive line, Brees was pressured relentlessly. The offense wasn’t really able to get into a rhythm throughout the game because Everson Griffen and Co. simply feasted on the Saints’ five men upfront.

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5. Sean Payton had a couple curious decisions. Right before a Vikings’ third-and-one on their own 14-yard line with 1:27 left in the second quarter and Minnesota willing to let the clock die down to halftime, Payton opted to call a timeout. Normally, that’s the right move as a coach. However, it’s questionable when the defense you’re relying upon is that of the Saints’. Cook converted on the third down with a 10-yard run, and the Vikings drove down the field to grab six points and a 16-6 lead instead of a one-possession game at half.

Payton also opted for a field goal from the Vikings’ two-yard line down 17 with 7:53 remaining in the game. Given the nature of the team’s offense and defense, Payton should have gone for it. Instead, the Saints let the Vikings drive down the field after that conservative decision and didn’t receive the ball again until there were four minutes left with the team trailing once again by 17.