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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Saints?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1) are set to match up with the New Orleans Saints (5-1) at US Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football. Here is how the two teams match up, position by position (all stats via Pro Football Focus and Pro-Football Reference)….

Quarterback

Vikings starter: Kirk Cousins

While there have been moments that Kirk Cousins would want back — fumbles against Buffalo, his interception against Arizona, backward pass against the Jets — Cousins has lived up to what the Vikings hoped when they signed him to an $84 million deal. He’s top 10 in ESPN’s QBR, 12th by Pro Football Focus passing grades and ninth in quarterback rating. And Cousins has done so while facing an uphill battle with Dalvin Cook out and the O-line struggling at times. He’s faced the fifth highest pressure rate despite also being at the top of the league in quick passes.

There are still some areas where the Vikings’ quarterback can improve. They are 23rd on third downs, 19th in the red zone and 26th in percentage of drives in which the Vikings produce points. In order to go toe-to-toe with Brees, Cousins will have to step up in big spots and not finish drives with field goals.

Saints starter: Drew Brees

It doesn’t get any better than Drew Brees. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is No. 1 by Pro Football Focus, No. 2 by QBR and No. 1 by traditional quarterback rating. The last time the Vikings saw Brees, he was putting together one of the most impressive comebacks in NFL postseason history, leading his team from down 17 to take a late lead in the divisional playoff game. He has weapons all over the place, a fantastic offensive line and an incredibly creative offensive mind in his corner. The Vikings’ defense was lit up by the Los Angeles Rams earlier this year, now they face a test every bit as difficult.

Advantage: Saints

Running back

Vikings starter: Latavius Murray

Over the past two weeks, the Vikings have finally put together their run game behind a number of explosive carries from Murray. With Cook out with a hamstring injury, the 2015 Pro Bowl back has stepped up, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The former Raider is also one of the NFL’s best pass blockers. He’s allowed just three pressures in a league-high 53 pass blocking snaps.

Saints starter: Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram

The Saints’ duo of backs has a good case for being the best in the NFL. Kamara already has 40 receptions at 9.1 yards per reception this season and averages 5.5 yards per carry in his 22 NFL games. Ingram is just returning from suspension, so he’s only carried the ball 28 times this season. Over his long career in New Orleans, he’s been one of the most under appreciated backs in the league, consistently gaining around 5.0 yards per carry. Plus he grabbed 50 passes last season.

The wild card of the group of Taysom Hill, who lines up at running back, quarterback, receiver and even tight end. He will occasionally run read option plays — and averages 6.9 yards per carry — adding another dangerous wrinkle to the mix.

Advantage: Saints

Wide receiver/tight end

Vikings starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

Adam Thielen is now on the cusp of an NFL record for most 100-yard games in a row — and that’s not just based on a high volume of targets. When targeting Thielen, Kirk Cousins has a 118.7 quarterback rating. Stefon Diggs isn’t far behind at 105.8 — though the Vikings have struggled the last two weeks to get him the ball downfield, mostly relying on short throws. Kyle Rudolph has quietly been a great option for Cousins, catching 28 of 33 passes in his direction. And even Laquon Treadwell has shown improvement after a rough opening two weeks.

Saints starters: Michael Thomas, Tedd Ginn, Tre’Quan Smith, Ben Watson

It would be tough to win an argument either way over whether Thielen or Michael Thomas was the best receiver in the NFL this year. Brees as a 91 percent completion percentage when targeting Thomas and a 131.9 quarterback rating. The Saints’ physically imposing receiver will match up against a slowed Xavier Rhodes, who is expected to play despite an ankle injury. The rest of Brees’s receivers have stepped up at times, but there hasn’t been one consistent No. 2 option. Watson is laughing at Father Time with 23 catches on 28 targets.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Offensive line

Vikings starters: Rashod Hill – Danny Isidora – Pat Elflein – Mike Remmers – Brian O’Neill

With Riley Reiff unlikely to play and Tom Compton out, the Vikings’ offensive line is in for a helluva test. Rookie Brian O’Neill will have a long day ahead against Cameron Jordan, one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL, and the interior will have to battle to make up for the loss of Compton. One thing that’s going their way is that over the last two weeks the Vikings have significantly cut down on pressures allowed, giving up only nine to the Jets. Elflein’s return has also played a major role in creating explosive runs for Murray.

Saints starters: Terron Armstead – Andrus Peat – Max Unger – Larry Warford – Ryan Ramczyk

There are few lines that are playing as well as the Saints and that starts with Armstead, who is an elite left tackle when healthy and this year he’s healthy. He’s yet to allow a sack and has given up only seven pressures in 248 pass blocking snaps. Not to mention he’s a tremendous run blocker. Where the Vikings may have an advantage is in the middle, assuming Linval Joseph (questionable) plays against Max Unger. Also the Danielle Hunter vs. Ryan Ramczyk matchup could be a good one. Ramczyk has given up only four pressures this year.

Advantage: Saints

Defensive line

Vikings starters: Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph (?), Sheldon Richardson, Danielle Hunter

It’s hard to say how many snaps Everson Griffen will play, but it’s a huge boost to have him back for any number. He is a top-10 player at his position and despite the solid play of Stephen Weatherly, there’s only a handful of players on earth who can impact a game like Griffen. The health status of Joseph will be huge in stopping the Saints’ terrific run attack and Hunter leads the NFL in sacks with eight.

Saints starters: Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, David Onyemata

Speaking of the few people who can play on Griffen’s level, Jordan is one of them. The Saints’ defense overall has not been effective getting after the quarterback with just 13 sacks this season, but Jordan has five of them and 25 pressures. One player to watch in the Saints’ rotation up front is first-round pick Marcus Davenport, who is starting to get a feel for the NFL game with two sacks, three QB hits and three hurries in 120 snaps.

Advantage: Vikings

Linebackers

Vikings starters: Eric Kendricks, Eric Wilson, Ben Gedeon

Without Anthony Barr in the lineup, the Vikings’ depth at linebacker will be tested. Wilson had a terrific preseason, earning him a rotational spot, but that’s nothing like chasing around Kamara and Ingram. The Vikings haven’t been anywhere near as effective slowing the opposing team’s RBs in the passing game as they were last season. They will need a much better performance than they had against the Rams and Todd Gurley.

Saints: Demario Davis, AJ Klein, Manti Te’o

Davis has been a solid addition for the Saints, especially in the run game. The Saints are best in the NFL in yards per carry allowed. However, throwing against New Orleans’ linebackers has been plenty successful for opponents. Davis has given up 18 catches on 22 targets and the opposition is 12-for-14 against Klein.

Advantage: Even

Secondary

Vikings starters: Xavier Rhodes (?), Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Harrison Smith, George Iloka

Rhodes’ status will determine how strong the Vikings’ secondary will be against the Saints. In the recent past, he has followed Michael Thomas all over the field. If he’s unable to do so because of an ankle injury, that’s a huge win for New Orleans. If Rhodes isn’t effective, they will have to turn to rookie Holton Hill, who’s played just 39 snaps this year and is considered a raw prospect. The Vikings have effectively made up for the loss of Andrew Sendejo so far with veteran George Iloka playing admirably in his place.

Saints starters: Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, PJ Williams, Kurt Coleman, Marcus Williams

Getting Lattimore back should make a big difference for the Saints’ defense, but they are missing corner Ken Crawley and Patrick Robinson is on injured reserve. The Saints traded for Eli Apple, who has to step right into the mix. We will also see how Marcus Williams handles being back at US Bank Stadium, the site of his gaffe that cost the Saints a playoff win.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Saints? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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