In a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff matchup, Minnesota and New Orleans put on a less entertaining showing on Sunday Night Football. New Orleans took advantage of two costly Vikings turnovers to win 30-20. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in game report:
Sean Payton is one of the most innovative play callers in the NFL and he lived up to the hype on Sunday night against the Vikings, who came into the game ranked No. 10 in total defense. The former quarterback, turned head coach, used backup quarterback Taysom Hill in Wildcat formations and empty sets and even lined him up at wide receiver while Drew Brees was under center. Hill is 6’2, 220 pounds and can run in-between the tackles and throw the football. His ability forces opposing defenses to have to game plan for something else while still preparing for Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards. On one possession in the red zone, Payton even put Hill in shotgun and lined quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Brees out wide. Hill ran up the middle for no gain but it goes to show Payton isn’t afraid to experiment with some new alignments and he may have used the wacky formation to get something on film for a later use. Hill finished with one completion for 44 yards and three rushing attempts for -2 yards. The former BYU quarterback has run for 123 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
The Minnesota Vikings have two number one receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Against New Orleans, Thielen caught seven passes for 103 yards and set the record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games to start the season with his eighth straight. He ranks first in the NFL in receiving yards and receptions. On the other side, Diggs caught 10 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Most impressive is that the two combined for 17 receptions on 18 targets. Not only are Diggs and Thielen productive, but they make sure to catch anything and everything that comes their way. The Vikings made an effort to attack Saints cornerback P.J. Williams instead of testing Pro Bowler, Marshon Lattimore. Minnesota has two number one level receivers which allows them to pick on cornerbacks, who they deem more of a liability. Both players made critical mistakes that resulted in big plays for the Saints defense. With the Vikings up 13-10 and driving in for a score at the Saints’ 18-yard line with 1:11 left in the second quarter, Thielen fumbled after a hit by linebacker Alex Anzalone. The fumble was recovered by Lattimore and took potential points off the board. Then, in the third quarter (5:58), Diggs failed to continue to run across the field on a crossing pattern while being covered by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams. Williams ended up picking off the crossing pattern by Kirk Cousins and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown. It put the Saints up by 14 and stymied the Vikings attempt to tie the game. Despite the mishaps, the Vikings will continue to be a force in the passing game behind the production of Diggs and Thielen.
Earlier in the week, New Orleans acquired Eli Apple from the Giants for a fourth round draft pick. Apple led the team in tackles on Sunday night but a lot of those tackles came after he had given up catches. Apple, who started the game, should form cohesion with the Saints secondary in time as he is accompanied by fellow former Ohio State Buckeyes Marshon Lattimore and Vonn Bell. With the emergence of defensive end Marcus Davenport (two sacks against Minnesota) alongside Pro Bowler Cam Jordan, New Orleans has the makings of a solid defense. If defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who served as the secondary coach during the Saints championship season, can get the secondary on the same page then New Orleans could match a strong offense with an equally strong defense.
Update: Davenport was recently reported to have a toe injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time.