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Saints Rushing Attack vs. Vikings Run Defense

New Orleans needs to establish the offensive balance they've lacked so far to have a chance to beat Minnesota in week four.
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The New Orleans Saints will try to break a two game losing skid when they take on the 2-1 Minnesota Vikings in week four. New Orleans (1-2) is considered the home team in this contest, which takes place in London at 9:30am Eastern Time on Sunday.

The Saints come into the game with the league's eighth ranked offense in total yardage after three games. However, they've averaged only 17 points per game and have turned the ball over nine times, a league high. They’ll take on a Vikings defense that throttled Green Bay in week one, but ranks just 30th in total yardage and has given up 48 points in the last two weeks.

Unlike in recent years, the Saints have failed to gain control of the line of scrimmage in any of their three contests. It's that lack of balance that's helped them fall behind in the second half of every game, only getting saved by their passing attack at Atlanta in week one.

Will New Orleans be able to run the ball against Minnesota?

Here's a look at how their ground game might fare against the Vikings defense.

New Orleans Running Game

  • 17 points per game
  • 111.7 rushing yards per game
  • 5.5 per rush
  • 2 rushing touchdowns
Alvin Kamara

Oct 28, 2018; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) carries the ball against the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Kamara returned after missing week two against Tampa Bay with a rib injury and rushed for 61 yards on 15 carries against Carolina. He now has 100 yards on the ground this season, but just hasn't been the dangerous gamebreaker we’ve seen over the first five years of his career.

Kamara is effective between the tackles, but is a nightmare for defenses on the edge or in space. The opposition has brought extra defenders near the line of scrimmage to prevent Kamara from getting outside and successfully clog his cutback lanes.

One other way to get Kamara on track is to use him as a receiver, something we haven't really seen from the offense dating back to the middle of last season. He has just five catches for 19 yards so far this year.

Twelve-year veteran Mark Ingram is just behind Kamara in rushing yardage with 98 yards and a score on 19 carries. Ingram is a bruising runner between the tackles and still has the speed to make plays on the second level of a defense. An ideal complement to Kamara, Ingram is still capable of churning out a 100-yard outing.

Taysom Hill missed last week with a rib injury, but has 95 yards and a touchdown on just seven runs. Though listed as a tight end, Hill is often used as a change-of-pace out of the backfield. He has the team’s longest run of the season, a 57-yarder against the Falcons, and has both the strength to bowl over defenders and the speed to pull away from them in the open field.

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans Saints player Taysom Hill (7) breaks a run against the Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during a NFC Wild Card game. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans Saints player Taysom Hill (7) breaks a run against the Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during a NFC Wild Card game. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Jones Jr. was a healthy scratch last week in Carolina, but had a strong preseason and provides depth. Jones and special teams ace Dwayne Washington won’t see many offensive snaps barring injury, but are capable of picking up some yards if called upon.

With the extra defensive attention on Kamara, running yards are hard-earned. The Saints offensive line also needs to do a better job of winning their battles along the line of scrimmage.

Tackles Ryan Ramczyk and James Hurst, Guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz, and C Erik McCoy have opened up nice holes on some drives, but have yet to consistently dominate through a game this year.  They’ll face a big challenge against a physically imposing Vikings defensive front. 

Minnesota Run Defense

  • 18.3 points per game
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  • 137.7 rush yards/game
  • 4.7 per rush
  • 5 rushing touchdowns
  • 14 tackles for loss
Jan 14, 2018; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 14, 2018; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After ranking 26th against the run in 2021, the Vikings have had similar struggles to start this season. They held Green Bay in check to start the year, but it helped that they jumped out to a 20-0 second half lead. Since then, the Vikings have allowed 163 yards on the ground to Philadelphia and 139 to Detroit.

Minnesota has a big defensive front with Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, and Jonathan Bullard. However, they’re somewhat thin in the middle, potentially causing them to wear down if a team can be patient late into games. Edge rushers Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, and D.J. Wonnum pace the pass rush, but are underrated run defenders.

Inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are outstanding run stoppers who are physical in the trenches, but also possess strong play recognition to get in position off-tackle. They are backed up by Troy Dye and rookie Brian Asamoah, who are undersized but athletic.

Hicks leads the team in tackles so far, while Kendricks has had at least 90 stops in every one of his previous seven seasons. Six-time Pro Bowl S Harrison Smith should play this week after missing a game in concussion protocol. Smith is one of the league's most versatile safeties and is outstanding in the tackle box against the run.

What to Expect

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

When the Saints and Vikings last met, New Orleans routed Minnesota by a 52-33 score on Christmas Day in 2020. Alvin Kamara had a career-high 155 yards rushing that day. He also had six rushing touchdowns, matching the NFL record set by Ernie Nevers back in 1929.

Kamara had 127 yards rushing in four previous meetings against Minnesota prior to that performance. He was effective that day because of the presence of QB Drew Brees, who spread the Vikings out sideline-to-sideline by throwing for 311 yards.

The Saints will need another efficient passing day from Jameis Winston to keep Minnesota from crowding the line of scrimmage against the run and blitzing the pass pocket. Kamara has an open field advantage against the big, but athletically limited Kendricks and Hicks.

Look for the Saints to use Kamara and Ingram on short passes as an extension of their running game to test Minnesota along the sideline. If successful, New Orleans should find running room off-tackle with their backs and Taysom Hill to establish the balance they have yet to find through the first three games this season. 

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