The Vikings are hoping to pick up a win away from U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in the Kevin O'Connell era when they take on the Saints in London on Sunday.
The unusual circumstances of traveling to a different continent is a big story this week, but what matters most is still winning a football game. Let's take a look at a few things to know about the Saints, who are off to a 1-2 start under new head coach Dennis Allen.
Their offense is struggling
Facing the Saints could be just what the doctor ordered for a Vikings defense that has mostly struggled, even if they've stiffened when they've needed to. New Orleans' offense ranks 31st in expected points added and 26th in DVOA. Since scoring 27 points in a narrow season-opening victory over the Falcons, the Saints have averaged 12 points per game in losses to the Buccaneers and Panthers.
Jameis Winston, not surprisingly, has struggled with turnovers, throwing five interceptions (all in the last two weeks) to four touchdown passes so far. He has also been sacked 11 times, fifth-most in the league through three weeks. Rookie Chris Olave is a dangerous deep threat and Michael Thomas has looked like his old self at times, so it's not like Winston is lacking in weapons. He's a quarterback who wants to push the ball downfield and look for big plays, which the Vikings need to be prepared for. There should be opportunities for takeaways in this game.
Winston's deep-oriented approach has impacted Alvin Kamara's production as a receiver. Usually one of the most prolific pass-catchers at the running back position, Kamara has just five catches for 19 yards in two healthy games, and he hasn't yet scored a touchdown. Between Kamara, Mark Ingram, and gadget player Taysom Hill, the Saints' running game could pose some issues.
There are also a lot of injury concerns on the Saints' offense. Winston is banged up and didn't practice on Wednesday, so there's a possibility it'll be backup Andy Dalton getting the start in London. Thomas, Landry, and two starting offensive linemen — Ryan Ramczyk and Andrus Peat — also missed Wednesday's practice. It's something to monitor as the week progresses.
They have continuity and playmakers on defense
The Saints and Vikings both hired new head coaches this offseason, but the circumstances were pretty different. Whereas the Vikings brought in a completely new regime, the Saints just promoted Allen, their longtime defensive coordinator, to head coach because Sean Payton retired.
Allen seemingly always has the Saints' defense playing well, and this year is no different. They're tenth in defensive DVOA and eighth in opponent EPA per play so far, and they've held two straight opponents below 300 yards of offense. The Saints are well-coached on defense, but it helps that they have some important players who have been in the system for a long time. DE Cameron Jordan remains productive in his 12th season in New Orleans, while CB Marshon Lattimore, LB Demario Davis, and DE Marcus Davenport have all been there since at least 2018.
"I expect the Saints to have a very, very good run defense; they always have," Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said. "They’ve got really, really good players up front – two backers that I’ve got a ton of respect for and then DBs that are willing to get up in that fit and make it hard for you.
"You just know that you’re gonna get a really good scheme. They’re really well coached, and they’ve got really good players, so it’s gonna be a heck of a challenge. We’ve played some good defenses so far, but I think this group is as good as any you’ll see in the league. They’re aggressive, they’re physical. We’ve talked a lot to our guys just about the kind of challenge it’s going to be. You know, you see these guys defeating blocks, getting off blocks, making tackles. They compete hard when the ball is in the air."
This will be another great test for O'Connell and the Vikings' offense. They'll need the offensive line to continue playing well so they can run the ball effectively and Kirk Cousins can deliver the ball on time to his pass-catching weapons.
They're already in London
Interestingly, these two teams took different approaches to the time change and travel aspects of playing in London. The Saints went out there early this week, giving their team time to fully acclimate to the time difference. They're practicing in the area all week and will be fully on London time when Sunday's game rolls around.
The Vikings took a different approach, practicing in Minnesota like they usually would on Wednesday and Thursday. The difference is that when players and coaches would normally go home on Thursday, they'll all be getting on a flight instead. The intent is to try to stay on central time as much as possible.
"The goal is to not have them fully acclimate," said Vikings executive director of player health and performance Tyler Williams. "Because the minute you fully acclimate, you’re gonna have to fully acclimate back, so you’re spreading that window of the ability to be able to shift and not shift. So the goal is to keep them on central as much as possible — with knowing we’ll shift them a little bit. We just won’t shift them all the way."
It's hard to know if either approach is the better one. It's just interesting that they're different. Whoever wins might have an argument that their method was more effective, even though the outcome will be determined by execution on the field more than anything else.
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