3 Keys to Victory for Saints vs. Vikings
Kyle T. Mosley
Three keys to victory for the New Orleans Saints to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card round.
THE RUSHING ATTACK
The New Orleans Saints rushing attack of running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined with the talents of all-purpose QB Taysom Hill have rushed for over 100+ yards in twelve games in 2019. The Saints have won 11 out of the 12 games the team has exceeded 100 yards in a game. The team's lone lost was to the San Francisco 49ers in their 48-46 contest in November. New Orleans are ranked 16th in the league with 108 yards per game average on 405 attempts, 1738 total yards, 12 touchdowns, and a 4.3 yards/rush average.
RB Alvin Kamara appears to be close to 100% healthy after lingering high-ankle sprain and knee injuries this season. Kamara has rushed for 4 touchdowns in the final two games with the Tennessee Titans (2) and Carolina Panthers (2). These were the first rushing touchdowns for Kamara since Week 3 in Seattle as the Saints defeated the Seahawks. Kamara rushed 171 times for 797 yards and 5 touchdowns in the regular season.
RB Latavius Murray rushed for 637 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2019. While Kamara and Brees were injured, the Saints relied heavily on Murray. He was able to grind out two 100+ yard games and 3 touchdowns.
QB Taysom Hill brings an extra dynamic to the Saints running game. He uses the ROP (Run Pass Option) to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Hill has contributed 156 yards on 27 attempts, 1 touchdown, with at 5.8 yards/rush average. The Saints usually bring in Hill on short yardage plays and gained 10 first downs in 2019. Sean Payton uses his speed and toughness in critical times of contests to add energy and passion to the team.
If New Orleans can rush the football effectively on Minnesota's 13th ranked rushing defense, they can control the time of possession and move the football on a rugged defensive unit. The bigger question would be if Saints Head Coach Sean Payton will be patient and will not abandon the rushing attack if it's not productive early in the game.
DEFENDING THE RUN
New Orleans Defense has been stellar against the run most of the season. The defense is ranked 4th in the NFL in yards per game with a 91 yds/gm average. Their total defense versus the run is ranked 8th in the league and surrendered 345 attempts, 1461 total yards, 12 touchdowns, for a 4.2 yards per carry average. The Saints have not allowed a single 100+ yard rusher in 2019.
Minnesota's primary weapon in their rushing attack is RB Dalvin Cook. The third-year running back has been on the mend from upper body/shoulder injuries and will return to the starting line-up against New Orleans. Cook is dangerous. He ran 250 times for 1135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019.
RB Alexander Mattison is dealing with an ankle injury and may be less than 100% for the Saints game. Mattison massed 462 yards and 1 TD for the Vikings, and RB Boone added 273 yards and 3 TD's this regular season.
The Vikings' rushing game has fielded 11 games over 100+ yards and 7 of those games were over 150+ yards. Stopping Minnesota will be a battle for New Orleans. The Vikings rely heavily on the run to set up the play-action fakes for QB Kirk Cousins.
This matchup is even on paper, but the Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen makes very good in-game adjustments against the run for the Saints. Expect Cam Jordan and his defensive line teammates to be ready for Dalvin Cook and Mattison.
Newly honored All-Pro PR/KR Deonte Harris, P Thomas Morstead, and K Wil Lutz are at the core of the Saints solid special teams unit. All-Pro J.T. Gray is excellent in punt/kick return coverage, and Taysom Hill, and RB Dwayne Washington are outstanding in pressuring the punters this season. The team has 3 blocks/tips in 2019.
Deonte Harris has 338 punt return yards (9.4 avg), 644 kick return yards (26.9 avg), and 1 touchdown for the Saints. His contributions have given the Saints offense better field position than in 2017, 2018 where they struggled. You can expect more of the same from Harris against the Vikings.
K Wil Lutz has made 32/36 (88.9%) field goals and 48/49 (98%) extra points for the Saints in 2019. P Thomas Morstead has boomed 60 punts for 2770 total yards for a 46.2 yard/punt average. Morstead averages 2 punts per game. If Morstead can keep the field position game in the favor of the Saints, it could make the Vikings one-dimensional and pressure QB Kirk Cousins in the passing game into mistakes.
My old mentor and Saints News Network Co-Host, Coach Rick Gaille, would always mention before games that the Saints Special Teams must be "Special." I believe in this contest, the Saints have the special teams' advantage.
The advantage for these 3 key areas are in for the New Orleans Saints. The Saints set a record for fewest turnovers in a season with 8. If this trend continues for the Saints and they can create turnovers on the Vikings, the Saints will win the NFC Wild Card game today.