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Film review:What can we learn from the Vikings-Saints Week 1 matchup?

By Matthew Coller

To a man, the Minnesota Vikings have said their 29-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 isn’t all that relevant to this week’s Divisional round game at US Bank Stadium.

But head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged that some of the core concepts that the Saints use will be useful as they prepare for the biggest game of the season.

“They’ve all changed, we’ve changed, but there’s the base things on both sides of both teams are still the same,” Zimmer said Monday.

Let’s have a look at several elements of the Saints’ offense that we are likely to see return on Sunday…

The middle of the field

The Vikings’ defense has been exceptional defending the middle of the field this season. Look no farther than their rankings against tight ends as evidence. According to Football Outsiders, Minnesota gave up the second fewest yards per game to opposing tight ends.

One reason they are so effective in the middle of the field is personnel. The Vikings’ linebackers are quick and have the ability to recover when opponents use play-action. Safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo are smart, instinctual and cover a lot of ground.

But Drew Brees is a special quarterback. His target does not have to be open in order for him to complete a pass. That was on display on a 24-yard completion to tight end Colby Fleener with 9:06 remaining in the second quarter.

Here is the play design:

Notice the Saints’ personnel. They have two running backs in the game. Alvin Kamara is lined up on the right side of the formation, while Mark Ingram is in the backfield. There are two tight ends and only one wide receiver. Kamara runs a wheel route, which forces Andrew Sendejo to respect the chance that Brees will throw down the sideline to his rookie RB.

Brees runs play-action, which freezes Ben Gedeon for a split second. Normally the Vikings play nickel defense, but the 2RB, 2TE set causes them to bring in the run stuffer.

Even with Gedeon’s slight hesitation and Sendejo on the tight end’s outside shoulder, the throw is of high difficulty. Brees puts it on the money.

Below is a chart via NFL Next Gen stats of Brees’s throws and passer rating by location. As you might expect, he’s either above average or average in every area, but especially good on throws into the middle of the field under 10 yards. The play above may have bene qualified as a throw to the right side, where he is above average in every area except behind the line of scrimmage.

Brees attacked Trae Waynes

While Xavier Rhodes did an excellent job in keeping star receiver Michael Thomas under raps in Week 1 (five catches, 45 yards), Trae Waynes had a rough start to the season, allowing nine of 10 throws into his coverage to be caught.

Overall, Waynes finished the year strong despite being one of the most targeted corners in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked him 52nd of 120 corners in the NFL.

After their success in Week 1, it seems likely that the Saints will find ways to isolate Waynes in coverage like the play below, which resulted in a 52-yard completion. The Saints run a fake pitch left. Everyone on the offensive line blocks left, giving all the looks of a run. That draws Sendejo, the lone high safety, toward the offensive left side of the field, leaving Waynes with no help over the top.

Only two receivers are going out on this play, so Brees has protection to throw deep. Tommylee Lewis runs a stop-and-go route, causing Waynes to hesitate slightly and create separation. Again, Brees is on the money.

Surprisingly the Saints are not among the best teams in the NFL when running play-action throws, only averaging 7.4 yards per attempt and running play-action on 20 percent of plays. But with the threat out of the backfield increased with Kamara’s rise, the Vikings may see play-action and offensive line movement more often to create time for Brees to throw.

Red Zone mistakes they likely won’t repeat

Overall Brees finished the game 27-for-37 with 291 yards, one touchdown zero interceptions and was only sacked once. The Saints scored on five of eight drives. Three of those scoring drives took more than five minutes off the clock. All of those facts would signify that the Saints had a pretty good offensive game, but only one of their scores was a touchdown.

While the Vikings do have a great red zone defense, it seems unlikely that the Saints will repeat their missteps in the red zone again.

For example, they ran three times in a row on first-and-goal. The Vikings stuffed all three. On another drive late in the game, they attempted to throw a pass to Adrian Peterson on third-and-2 at the goal line.

The bottom line

The Vikings can count on Brees completing tough throws in the middle of the field to extend drives. They are likely to see some of the same looks that stress the safety and it’s a safe bet Brees will test Trae Waynes.

Brees and the Saints’ offense also had a chance to learn how US Bank Stadium sounds at full volume. New Orleans may make some changes in their tempo to get plays off before the crowd can crescendo.

Overall, Week 1’s heavyweight matchup went to the Vikings, but it was a closer fight than it may have appeared because of the failures in the red zone. Both sides have a great matchup on their hands.

The post Film review:What can we learn from the Vikings-Saints Week 1 matchup? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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