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Photo: Vikings vs Saints Postgame Celebration
Post-game celebration. Photo courtesy Minnesota Vikings.

As I pointed out in the preview, no one believed they could do it. Not even me.

Coming off the abysmal loss to the Packers, there was a legitimate question of whether resting the starters was a wise decision, risking that they might obsess over the awful performance. 

Add to that the fact the Vikings had to face one of the hottest teams in the league led by eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

And add to that the fact that Vikings lost both cornerbacks Mackenzie Alexander and Mike Hughes to injury and it was easy to be skeptical, as I was, that the Vikings could sneak out with a win.

Vikings Offense Shines

But the Vikings went to Louisiana and did it. They did it on the strength of an offensive line that opened holes for the fresh legs of Dalvin Cook and they did it by creating time for Kirk Cousins to find his receivers. 

And they did it on the back of the much-maligned quarterback during the overtime drive with Cousins making three clutch passes to seal the win:

  1. On a slant to Stefon Diggs to convert a third down,
  2. On the bomb to Adam Thielen to give the Vikings the ball at the Saints two yard line, 
  3. And, of course, on the perfectly placed jump ball to Kyle Rudolph for the winning score.

Defense Dominates

But for all the credit that is due the Vikings offensive performance, it was the Vikings defense that ensured this win, with standout performances from Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Harris, and Andrew Sendejo. 

Everson Griffen applied consistent pressure and recorded 1.5 sacks. Danielle Hunter did the same and caused a Drew Brees fumble with the Saints within striking distance of a score. 

Anthony Barr stuffed the run with eight tackles like this one…

…and he bull-rushed the Saints tight end back into Brees’ lap, forcing a Griffen sack.

Eric Kendricks recorded five tackles and he showed his smarts and instincts on this play where he sniffed out an Alvin Kamara run to disrupt it for a big loss.

Just like Andrew Sendejo did against Brees in 2017…

Anthony Harris picked off an underthrown pass and returned it 30 yards to set up a Dalvin Cook touchdown run late in the second quarter:

And safety Andrew Sendejo defended a pass….playing slot corner:

Mike Zimmer’s Brilliance

Photo: Mike Zimmer - Training Camp
Mike Zimmer. Photo courtesy Minnesota Vikings

But for all of the outstanding individual efforts, the most amazing way the Vikings beat the Saints was the defensive scheme head coach Mike Zimmer cooked up to get pressure on Brees and compensate for the fact that he was missing two cornerbacks and was starting one who had struggled all season long.

Using Griffen and Hunter on the inside of the line to take advantage of better matchups with the Saints guards was a stroke of brilliance that applied pressure where the Saints can least afford it. 

Brees needs to step up in the pocket to find his receivers and in order to step into his throws to find the power that his aging arm is now lacking. That was demonstrated in the underthrow on Harris’ interception. 

It should be noted that this tactic was especially effective because of the emergence of Ifeadi Odenigbo’s emergence as a playmaker on the outside. While his stat line is full of zeros, Odenigbo applied pressure from the outside that forced at least one incompletion that I saw, which nearly turned into a Jayln Holmes interception. 

Zimmer mixed up the coverage but the biggest surprise was seeing Andrew Sendejo line up in the slot. I expected to see rookie Kris Boyd get picked apart by Brees or Jayron Kearse asked to stay with Micheal Thomas

But Zimmer opted for Sendejo’s veteran presence over Boyd and as a quicker option than Kearse. 

Zimmer’s scheme was simply brilliant.

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