We’re a little more than 48 hours away from kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. In keeping with what we do for basically every game, we’ve taken some time to sit down and talk with the folks from the SB Nation site that covers the Vikings’ opponent this week.
I’ve exchanged some questions for this week’s contest with Christopher Dunnells from Canal Street Chronicles, the SB Nation site for everything about Saints football. Once he has the answers that I sent him posted on his site, I will link that post here, and here are the answers that he sent me to my questions.
UPDATE: The folks from Canal Street Chronicles have posted their set of questions right here.
1) What does the Saints' depth chart at wide receiver look like in this one with the suspension of Willie Snead? Who will the Saints be looking to in their efforts to replace him?
The Saints depth chart at WR and who will potentially be the getting the targets that would have gone to Willie Snead are two different questions. At WR, I'd say the depth chart looks like this: Michaels Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr, Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis. Who will be forced to step up in Snead's absence? Look for TEs Coby Fleener and Josh Hill to play bigger roles in the passing game than many fans originally expected for these next three games. Snead was a slot, sure-handed, move-the-chains type of receiver. It wouldn't be a shock to see Fleener and Hill playing in the middle of the field and targeted on crucial third downs.
2) Hey, so you have a running back that we're sort of familiar with. What will Adrian Peterson's role in the Saints backfield be, and how will the Saints balance him out with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara?
My opinion of what the Saints will likely do with Adrian Peterson seems to be different than the rest of the football world. Mark Ingram became the first RB for the Saints to rush for 1,000 yards since Deuce McAllister last year. I just can't see the Saints bringing in any veteran to upend Ingram from the starter's role, regardless of what the other pundits say. I believe this to still be Mark Ingram's show, with Peterson taking the Tim Hightower-backup job from last year. Peterson will likely be leaned on slightly more than Hightower, but I'm expecting a 60-70/40-30 split between Ingram and the other Backs, Peterson included. As far as this week is concerned, I expect Peterson to be the featured goal line back so he can score against his old team - something Sean Payton did with Hightower against the Cardinals last year. Kamara is likely in as a change-of-pace back and someone to be groomed long term as Ingram's replacement. He's just a slow burn right now.
3) The Saints' defense has been. . .well, not good over the past few years. What steps have the Saints taken to remedy that, and do you think they'll be improved this season?
They have to be improved, right? It will just be a matter of if the improvements make any meaningful and noticeable change. Their 2016 1st Round Pick, DT Sheldon Rankins, is healthy for the full season after missing the first six games last year. On the defensive line, they have the always underrated Cam Jordan on one end, but finally have a counterpart on the other side to rush the passer in Alex Okafor. With Rankins up the middle and Cam and Okafor on either side, the Saints D-Line should take a small step forward. Their 2017 1st Round Pick (or one of them, at least), Marshon Lattimore, fell to the Saints at #11 and is a perfect fit after the Saints and Patriots couldn't match up on a trade for CB Malcolm Butler. Lattimore will likely start opposite PJ Williams (who has looked great in the preseason) until Delvin Breaux comes back from injury, so the Cornerbacks should also take a small step forward from 2016. It's with the Linebackers that I expect to see the most improvement, as the Saints have revamped their entire Linebacking unit. They were godawful against the run and in coverage last year, and I think that will be the area you see the move improvement after the additions of AJ Klein, Manti Te'o and rookie Alex Anzalone.
4) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans might not be familiar with that you feel will play a big role in this week's game.
On defense, I'll go with the aforementioned PJ Williams. He might not be a lockdown CB by any means, but the Vikings do not have an elite WR (no disrespect to Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen, but they're no Julio Jones or Mike Evans) that should be able to take advantage of his limited experience. Williams should be able to hold his own all game. On offense, most of the impact players for the Saints are names that are familiar to most football fans (Brees, Ingram, Peterson, Thomas, Fleener, etc). So if I have to go off the wall, I'll go with TE Josh Hill, another player who will be forced to step up in the slot after Snead's suspension.
5) How do you see this game playing out?
The homer in me will always pick the Saints, so I'll say 24-17 New Orleans, with the Saints having a surprising amount of success moving the ball against the Vikings D on the road.
Thanks to Chris for taking a moment to answer these questions for us. We’ll have more on this week’s contest as we get closer to kickoff.