Quick Takes: Saints not ready for primetime, fall to Vikings

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For the New Orleans defense to open the 2017 season, it was a new look with many new players with the same, tired old results.

A year ago, Minnesota started 5-0 before falling apart to finish 8-8. They scored 16 points or less six times in their final 11 games as the offense struggled mightily. Those struggles ended against the porous Saints defense Monday night.

It was a nightmare for the Saints, particularly for Devante Harris. When an opponent scouts a team and finds a weakness, they will exploit it. If you think the Saints don’t miss Delvin Breaux, think again.

Then again, it was not just Harris. The Saints back seven did not cover anyone and the front four did not generate much pressure. That, my friends, is an awful combination. It came against a Minnesota offensive line with all five players being new starters compared to last year.

Making matters worse, the defense failed to recover a Vikings fumble that was laying on the ground to be recovered and had two defensive players collide to knock a sure interception away at the goal line.

It was bad enough that the Saints could not stop the pass. They allowed rookie Delvin Cook to break Adrian Peterson’s record for rushing yards in a season opening game as he rushed for 127 yards. New Orleans made Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs look like All-Pro receivers. Thielen had nine catches for 157 yards while Diggs had seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns.

Then, there was Sam Bradford, who completed 27-of-32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Three of the misses were drops. He became just the fifth quarterback since the NFL/AFL merger to complete 80 percent of his passes and throw for three touchdowns in a season opener. The Saints had no passes defensed. They were defenseless.

Other than that, the Saints were good on defense. They yielded 470 yards. What else is new? The Vikings trashed the Saints for 10 plays of 20 yards or more, including eight passing.

The Saints tried to come out and run the football, not a bad idea, but it did not work. They could not finish drives in the red zone. It was a bad night. They looked much like the team we last saw at 7-9 a year ago.

The Vikings have a good defense. We knew that, with five players on the unit returning from Pro Bowl appearances a year ago.

Here are my quick takes from the ugly 29-12 loss at Minnesota:

**Minnesota won the toss and deferred, giving the Saints the football.

**The Saints started Peterson, who pushed the pile for nine yards on the first play from scrimmage and fought for one yard and a first down on the second play.

**The Saints had two offensive line penalties on the first drive, including a false start on Larry Warford and a hold on Andrus Peat that killed the drive.

**New deep snapper Zach Wood executed a perfect snap, Thomas Morstead had a perfect hold and Wil Lutz knocked through a 43-yard field goal straight down the middle and high to make it 3-0 with 8:21 to play in the opening quarter. The drive went 13 plays, 59 yards and took 6:39 off the clock.

**The Saints ran it seven times and passed it five times on the opening drive, perhaps a sign of things to come this season.

**The Vikings answered. Two shallow cross completions from Bradford to Diggs, who was wide open on both to move the chains.

**Rookie Marcus Williams committed an ill-advised personal foul with a hit way out of bounds. Then, rookie Alex Anzalone committed a personal foul with a helmet-to-helmet tackle as the Saints gave the Vikings 30 free yards on the drive.

**New Orleans had four penalties for 45 yards in the first quarter.

**Minnesota converted three of four third-downs on the series but on the final third down, Alex Anzalone knocked away a pass intended for Thielen, making up for the personal foul penalty and that forced a 24-yard field goal by former Saint Kai Forbath to make it 3-3 with 1:01 to play in the first quarter. The drive went 14 plays, 78 yards, taking 7:20 off the clock.

**Cameron Jordan drew a hold on Mike Remmers on the next Minnesota series, forcing a punt.

**Former Saint Tom Johnson had a sack of Brees but was flagged for a personal foul for going low, hitting Brees around the knees. It was a very tough call but by rule, the right call.

**Brees then hit Michael Thomas on a third down conversion and connected with Coby Fleener on a seam route for 24 yards. The duo then connected again for a first-and-goal on a 10-yard completion.

**Zach Strief went down clutching his left knee two plays later. Already without Terron Armstead, the loss was a crushing blow to the Saints, who have little or no depth at tackle. The Saints were unable to punch it in, running a trap play on third and goal from the five but Mark Ingram came up short and Lutz had to kick a 21-yard field goal to make it 6-3 with 5:26 to play in the half. The drive went 13 plays, 74 yards in 6:49.

**Interestingly enough, the Saints had a third-and-goal from the nine-yard line and ran it three times, failing to punch it in. Again, it indicates what the philosophy may be this season, though a banged-up offensive line could change that approach.

**The Vikings needed just three plays to answer, with Bradford shredding the Saints defense with three consecutive passes of 31 yards to Thielen, who had a total mismatch on linebacker Manti Te’o, 21 yards to Jarius Wright, who was wide open and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Diggs, who was all alone. DeVante Harris completely blew the coverage, looking in the backfield and Diggs simply ran into free space in the end zone to make it 10-6 with 4:08 to play in the half. The drive took all of three plays, 74 yards with just 1:18 coming off the clock.

**Morstead is money. First, he boomed a 57-yard punt before blasting a 68-yarder to flip the field in the final two minutes of the first half, with the second punt being downed at the five-yard line. Lutz nailed all four field goal attempts and kicked off well. The kickers were the stars on this night for the Saints.

**With Minnesota starting at its own five-yard line after shredding the Saints on the previous drive, Sean Payton elected to take two timeouts on defense, allowing more time to the Vikings. They took total advantage. Did the timeouts matter? Consider that Minnesota scored a touchdown with three seconds left in the half when Bradford hit Diggs with a perfectly thrown ball on the fade and a great catch over Harris, who had a half to forget and was targeted quite a bit. The drive went 10 plays, 95 yards in just 1:40 and Minnesota led 16-6 at halftime after Forbath missed the extra point.

**A.J. Klein knocked a virtually certain interception out of the hands of Cam Jordan which would have ended the drive two plays before the touchdown, an indication of how the half went for the Saints.

**Minnesota blasted the New Orleans defense for 229 yards in the half. Bradford was 17-of-20 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Saints had just 118 yards in the half as Brees was under extreme pressure throughout.

**The Vikings took the second half kickoff and went right at Harris again for a 30-yard completion to Diggs, who was interfered with and still caught the ball. Only a drop on third down by Cook prevented Minnesota from finding the end zone. Forbath squeezed a 32-yard field goal inside the left upright for a 19-6 lead with 11:07 to play in the third quarter, capping an eight play, 54-yard drive.

**Ryan Ramczyk allowed a sack to Everson Griffen early in the third quarter as the Saints went three-and-out. Senior Kelemete was flagged for holding on third down but the penalty was declined. Kelemete is a guard or center who was forced to play tackle. The Saints had released reserve tackle Bryce Harris earlier in the day and brought back linebacker Adam Bighill. To be fair, Harris was not very good. Perhaps he will be brought back now with Strief out. Preferably, the Saints will find someone better?

**P.J. Williams, who looked good in the preseason, had a very rough night and was beaten on several occasions.

**Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor and Jordan made good plays in succession midway through the third quarter. Jordan got the first sack for the Saints, predictably.

**Brees finally hit the big play, connecting with Tommylee Lewis catching a perfectly thrown 52-yard pass from Brees to set up first-and-goal at the Minnesota eight-yard line but the Saints failed to capitalize. On second down, a pass to Brandon Coleman went right through his hands and on third down, Brees threw for Ginn and was off the mark, forcing a 24-yard field goal by Lutz to make it 19-9 with 2:43 to play in the third quarter. The drive was 83 yards in eight plays with a very disappointing ending.

**Brees did throw for over 200 yards for the 53rd consecutive game.

**Minnesota came right back and drove 89 yards in nine plays with little resistance with Bradford connecting with a wide open Kyle Rudolph on a 14-yard touchdown pass to give the Vikings a 26-9 lead with 12:52 to play in the game.

**Another promising drive ended in failed fashion. Brees hit Alvin Kamara for 15 yards and connected with Ted Ginn for 27 yards and the Saints reached the two-yard line but once again, they could not punch it in, having to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Lutz to make it 26-12 with 7:49 to play in the game. The drive went 12 plays, 73 yards.

**The Vikings then put the game away as Forbath kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 29-12 with four minutes to play. The big play on the drive was a 25-yard completion to Jerick McKinnon.

**New Orleans responded with an after-the-fact but nice 75 yard drive in eight plays with Brees hitting Fleener on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 1:56 to play to make it 29-19.

Fleener was a rare bright spot for New Orleans, catching five passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

With regard to the use of running backs, Sean Payton has a dilemma but you knew that would be the case. He opened with Peterson with two straight carries but then he hardly saw the field or the ball again.

Then, there is the curious case of Mark Ingram. After his best season, rushing for over 1,000 yards a year ago (1,043), he got just six carries in this game.

Then, there is Alvin Kamara. After a shaky first half, he found his footing and showed well and should be a really good player.

Peterson was happiest in greeting his former teammates after the game. He barked at Payton at one point during the game. His six carries tied the fewest in his illustrious career.

Now, the Saints have a short week to face a rested, angry world champion in the New England Patriots Sunday. Tom Brady has to be licking his chops. Brees and the offense better get in gear. They will need points and lots of them to win. Otherwise, another 0-2 start will more likely than not lead to yet another losing season, as it has the previous three seasons.

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Ken Trahan


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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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