As we do every week, it’s time to take a look at things from the other sideline leading up to this week’s Minnesota Vikings contest. This week, the Vikings are taking on the New Orleans Saints, and that means we’re exchanging questions with the folks from Canal Street Chronicles, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to Saints football.
I had the opportunity to exchange questions with Christopher Dunnells, and whenever they post my responses to the questions they had for me, I’ll link them here and put them at the top of our page. In the meantime, here are the questions I had for him, along with his responses. Enjoy!
1) Last season, after a rough start, the Saints’ defense rounded into one of the better units in the league. This season, things haven’t quite followed, as the Saints are currently near the bottom of the league in points allowed, passing yardage, and passer rating allowed. What’s changed to derail a pass defense that appeared to be moving in the right direction at the end of last year?
Regression from the Saints cornerbacks, most notably in #2 CB Ken Crawley. This is the primary reason the Saints went out to trade for former 1st Round Pick Eli Apple from the New York Giants. Hopefully the addition of Apple will help reinvigorate the Saints secondary and we can see a group that performs to the level of the second half of 2017.
2) Conversely, the run defense has been very good, allowing the fewest yards/carry in the NFL and the fewest rushing yards/game in the league. What has been the key to the Saints’ outstanding play against the run through their first six games?
The Saints defensive line has been stout against the run this year, but I would say there are two reasons why the Saints have a top-ranked rush defense: 1) the Saints linebackers are playing great - specifically, Demario Davis is having an excellent season in his first year in New Orleans. You could argue he’s playing at a Pro Bowl level right now, but he hasn’t quite gotten the recognition from the talking heads just yet. And 2) the Saints have struggled so mightily against the pass, opposing teams aren’t really choosing to try to run the ball. When you could previously just keep throwing at whoever Ken Crawley was covering, why in the world would you try to run between the tackles?
3) With the trades they’ve made recently, the Saints now have just one pick in the first four rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. Combined with the age of Drew Brees, does this make the 2018 season “Super Bowl or Bust” for the Saints in your opinion?
You could see the Saints were going all-in on 2018 when they traded their 2019 1st Round Pick to draft DE Marcus Davenport and passing on QB Lamar Jackson. That made the Saints front office’s direction very clear. At the same time, the Saints had arguably one of the best draft classes in 2017 in the history of the NFL, with the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year (first time that happened on the same team since the award’s inception), plus numerous other key, young players.
Combine the 2017 rookies with a young core that includes Cam Jordan, Michael Thomas, Marcus Davenport, Tre’Quan Smith, Demario Davis, Eli Apple, and one of the best offensive lines in football, and the Saints team wouldn’t have too many holes to fill in the 2019 draft regardless. The biggest concern would be the Saints’ lack of a QB of the future, but if the Saints are able to keep Teddy Bridgewater (heard of him?) a la Jimmy G. in San Francisco after the trade from the Patriots, then I have no issues with the Saints sparse draft picks next year.
4) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings’ fans might not necessarily know about that you think will play a role in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Well I’ll start with the aforementioned Demario Davis. He’s been great thus far in New Orleans. He’s played the run exceptionally, holds his own in coverage, and has looked great when asked asked to rush the passer on a linebacker blitz. He would absolutely be someone to be aware of when the Vikings offense is on the field.
Now when I’m asked to address a player on the “other side of the ball,” I’m going to go a little off script and go Taysom Hill. Taysom, the quarterback, halfback, tight end, wide receiver, gunner, holder, kick returner, hair stylist, travel agent, and tire salesman... OK, I might have gotten a little carried away there at the end, but seriously, check out these numbers:
Taysom Hill had 16 Run block snaps this week.— Andre Weingarten (@Moonlightswami) October 24, 2018
He now has:
23 QB snaps
3 RB snaps
22 Inline TE snaps
8 Wide snaps
5 Slot snaps
5 PR snaps
35 KR snaps
41 kick coverage snaps
17 punt coverage snaps
12 FG/XP block snaps
This is absurd.
Taysom is an absolute monster right now, and a player the Vikings have absolutely spent hours preparing for.
He’s the up back on punts, and the Saints have already successfully executed two fake punts already this season - one was where Taysom threw a pass against the Giants, and the other a rush up the middle by Taysom against the Ravens. He also is seemingly unstoppable when running the read option. He’s let Alvin Kamara run up the middle, but he absolutely prefers to tuck the ball himself and run outside. The Saints have now shown a couple of looks where he’s thrown a pass out of the read option, and the Saints have also had Taysom run a sweep outside only to pitch the ball back to Kamara. Last week, they handed the ball to Taysom like a traditional running back. They’ve also shown multiple looks where Taysom is in blocking like a tight end.
The Saints and Sean Payton continue to expand the Taysom Hill Playbook, and it wouldn’t be surprised to see another wrinkle added on Sunday. When Taysom is in at quarterback, Drew Brees stays on the field out wide. You just know Sean Payton is waiting to call some sort of double-pass. Taysom is also the primary holder for field goals and extra points, but we haven’t seen Payton break out the bag of tricks on those plays just yet.
He has sub-4.40 speed and is used primarily on special teams, though. He wants to bring every kick that’s not deep in his own end zone out for a return. He’ll also lay the wood to opposing returners when he’s on the coverage unit.
No matter how he gets used this week, when #7 goes on the field, Saints fans hold their collective breath in excitement.
5) How do you see the game playing out? Do the Saints get a measure of revenge for January?
Mike Zimmer is giving lip service to Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr’s chances of playing on Sunday. I think a lot of this game will come down the Vikings ability to stop the Saints on offense.
The Vikings will score against the Saints secondary. Adam Thielen will go off and Kirk Cousins will seemingly be able to pass at-will, even behind a shaky offensive line. I’ve just come to terms with that.
I think this game will come down to the other matchups - when the Saints are on offense. Can the Vikings get enough stops to win a shootout? To me, if Rhodes is out or limited, I like my QB’s chances in a shootout over yours. Mine has done it before. Yours still has a lot to prove.
I like the Saints 35-31, assuming no/limited Rhodes. If Rhodes and Barr are back and at full strength, I could easily see the score flipped.
But “revenge?” Revenge for what? The 2009 NFC Championship Game? Your memory must be faulty - the Saints won that game on their way to a Super Bowl (do you know what those are? “Super Bowls?”). There’s nothing there to need “revenge.”
But really - good luck this week, and as they say: may the Saints team win. Or something like that.
As always, thanks to Christopher for taking the time to answer our questions, and man. . .who needs Cajun seasoning when you got that much salt, eh?
I kid. . .Christopher is one of, like, a dozen decent Saints fans, so this was all in good fun. I think. I’m relatively sure. I hope.
More on this week’s game as kickoff gets closer.