Saints bring reasons for optimism into NFC Divisional showdown with tough Vikings

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Saints at Vikings 2017

The New Orleans Saints travel to Minnesota this weekend to determine who will play the following weekend for the NFC Championship. The Vikings prevailed 29-19 in the season’s opening matchup between these two different teams set to meet Sunday.

You may recall that Minnesota QB Sam Bradford was off the charts, going 27 of 32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns back in early September. In his second game of the season he suffered an injury costing him the rest of the regular season. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook tallied 127 yards on 22 carries before an injury limited him to just four contests.

Latavious Murray and Jerrick McKinnon are now the primary backs in the rushing attack for the sixth ranked offense in the NFL.

The 230 pound Murray finished the season with a team leading 842 yards on 3.9 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. McKinnon, a 5-9 satelite back, had 570 yards and three scores.

Two weapons in the passing game for Minnesota are receivers Stefon Diggs (seven catches for 93 yards and two scores vs. Saints) and Adam Thielen (nine for 157 yards).

Becoming a legitimate star in 2017, Thielen totaled 91 grabs for 1,276 yards and four TD’s this season.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph (6-6, 265) added three catches for 26 yards, including a 15 yard touchdown catch in week one. He snared 57 passes for 532 yards and eight touchdowns for the season.

As capable as the Vikings are offensively under the steady leadership of replacement starting quarterback Case Keeneum, the NFL’s top overall defense will be the biggest challenge for the Saints. The new Purple People Eaters allow 15.8 points per game, giving up a mere 83.6 yards on the ground and just 275.9 total yards each game to the opposition.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks paces the group with 113 tackles for the season.

The safety duo of Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith are special as well. Sendejo chipped in with 80 tackles while Harrison tallied 78 stops, 12 passes defended and five interceptions

Ex-LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter has 45 stops with seven sacks to his credit opposite the outstanding end Everson Griffen, who led the Vikings with 13 sacks.

The Saints bring the league’s 17th rated defense, allowing 20 points and 336 yards each game. New Orleans actually bested Minnesota in sacks in the regular season, 42 to 37. Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan also recorded 13 sacks this season. The Saints have pilfered 20 passes, while the Vikings have come up with 14 interceptions. New Orleans managed 19 forced fumbles while the Vikings came up with 11.

The Saints counter with the NFL’s number one overall offense, producing 391.2 yards per game. The Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram boast the most explosive duo in the NFL with 3,094 yards from scrimmage.

New Orleans, with the NFL’s fifth best passing attack at 262 yards per game, are feueld by Drew Brees (No. 4 passer with 4,334 yards), who toosed for 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing a league-best 72% of his throws. Keenum surprised with 3,504 yards (63.8% completions) for 22 TD’s and seven picks.

Ken Trahan does a fine job breaking down the comparison between the two special teams in the contest.

The biggest story of the season is the job that the New Orleans offensive line has done despite injuries, new arrivals and lineup shuffling on a regular basis. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar has done a marvelous job.

The patched up Saints offensive line has allowed just 20 sacks. By comparison, the Vikings have allowed their QB to be dropped 35 times.

Rated as the pro football’s second best unit by the Los Angeles Times, only the Philadelphia Eagles line gained more praise.

The Saints rank second behind only the Patriots with success running between up the middle, where they rush 48 percent of the time.

Individually, Senio Kelemete has allowed one sack with five penalties as a frequently used backup. Now he will start in placed of the injured Andrus Peat.

Rookie right tackle Ryan Ramczyk has given up two sacks. Remember, the late- first round pick started at left tackle against the Vikings in the opening week.

At any level of football, the offensive line is the most misunderstood position on the field. It is a learned position, where effort is vital on each play. You take no plays off and must perform with controlled aggression. As the most disciplined position, you work in anonymity and your success is often only appreciated by your teammates. Much like a receiver, your hands are most important. The quickest hands win.

Roushar has molded this group together as offensive line coach since 2016. He served as running backs coach 2013-’14 and tight ends coach in ’15. He has prepared his players for work in different lineup combinations to power a potent running game this season.

It doesn’t get any better than this – the top overall offense vs. the top ranked defense.

Will the Saints win and advance to the NFC Championship game? Don’t know, but if you follow the bread crumbs and crunch the numbers, it certainly looks very promising.

Watch the running game. It may prove decisive.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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