Vikings “At” Saints In London: What To watch For

September 30, 2022

The Vikings travel to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London to face off against the New Orleans Saints. While a Week 4 game should not make or break a season, the Vikings have a great chance to confirm their role as a contender in the NFC. Here’s what I’m watching closely in this game as I eagerly await the start of a Vikings winning streak.

Jameis Winston

The Saints can’t be mentioned without discussing their current quarterback, Jameis Winston. Before his injury last season, it had appeared he had learned to lower his interception count while still airing it out deep for touchdowns. This season, that is not the case.

Winston has four touchdowns and five interceptions heading into Week 4. The Saints are 1-2, and Jameis has been playing through a back injury. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday this week, and I’ll be looking to see how healthy he looks out there. Regardless of Winston’s health, the Vikings will need to be cautious of his propensity to throw the ball deep. While he is prone to throwing interceptions, he is also capable of connecting on home run balls, and the Vikings should be wary. Last note on Winston: It is worth continuing to monitor his injury into this weekend. If he doesn’t play for some reason, the Saints will most likely start Andy Dalton.

Please Rush The Passer

Let’s continue with more discussion on the signal caller in New Orleans. The Vikings’ biggest issue this season has been their inability to get to the quarterback. Outside of their great performance against the Packers, the Vikings have been unable to rattle opposing quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Jared Goff. The best case scenario is that they are still working out some kinks schematically. The worst case? The players are underperforming.

Either way, this game is a chance for the Vikings’ pass rush to get back on track. The Saints do not have a terrible offensive line, but Jameis Winston has already been sacked 11 times this season. Six of those came in Week 2 against a tough Tampa Bay defense. I bring all of this up because I thought we had fixed our pass rush woes in the off-season. I need to see them be a factor in this game so that I can sleep a little easier going forward. I think an improved pass rush is the key to the Vikings’ defense having a positive impact on our season record.

What To Make Of The Saints’ Defense

Speaking of defense, the Saints have had a great one in recent years. They have been well coached with Dennis Allen seamlessly transitioning from defensive coordinator to head coach, and they have plenty of players with name recognition. To name just a few impact players to watch on Sunday, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marcus Davenport, Tyrann Mathieu, and Marshon Lattimore are all capable of shifting the momentum on their own.

And yet they don’t seem to be elite this season. I think the Vikings can exploit this defense, especially if they can keep them on the field. The Saints are -6 in the turnover ratio this season, and while that may be skewed by their QB’s penchant for picks, the Saints have yet to record an INT of their own. Further, while the Vikings definitely have their pass rushing issues, the Saints have as well, only recording four total sacks thus far. As a fan, I am cautiously optimistic that if we can own the time of possession battle and protect the ball, I don’t see this New Orleans defense keeping us off the scoreboard. I think we can have a pretty big offensive output, and use that momentum to rush Winston and the Saints on offense.

Can The Vikings Offense Continue To Adapt?

The performance against the Lions definitely wasn’t perfect, but the Vikings did some things well offensively. There was a good balance of run vs. pass, as Dalvin Cook ran for nearly 100 yards, and Kirk Cousins threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. However, it was a little disjointed.

The Vikings lost the time of possession battle and were outgained by the Lions in total yards. Additionally, Justin Jefferson was held in check by the Lions’ defense. That said, the Vikings did the right thing by finding Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn more often, instead of forcing it to Jefferson. But I don’t want them to settle for this; they need to find a way to make both of those outcomes reality. Defenses should definitely be afraid of what will happen if they try to force the Vikings away from Justin Jefferson, but the Vikings also need to get their best offensive weapon the ball. They can’t settle for allowing JJ to be completely shut out of the game. I will be looking for the Vikings to call plays that give them control of the momentum, and that fluster the Saints’ defense. This is something we weren’t able to do consistently against Detroit. They stuck with their game plan of being physical with our WRs, and while they had a lot of penalties, it also helped them slow down our passing attack.

Keys To The Game

Speaking a bit more generally, here are the most important things for the Vikings to do in order to win in London.

  1. Start fast. For two consecutive weeks, the Vikings have fallen behind 14-0. This is simply not something that good teams make a habit of doing. I know it’s probably a bit weird to have to travel to play a game in London, but the Vikings really need to start off strong. Get into a rhythm, set the tone, yadda-yadda-yadda, basically “insert here” any sports cliche you’d like to use.
  2. Secondary needs to step up. I write this under the assumption that our pass rush plays a factor, but I’ve also spoken about that ad nauseum, and need to branch out. A lot has been talked about our shell defense that has given up a lot of receiving yards over the past two weeks, and the Vikings will need to shore that up in this one. Michael Thomas did not practice Wednesday or Thursday this week, so it would be helpful if he were unable to go, but the Saints still have rookie standout Chris Olave, and proven veteran Jarvis Landry. If Jameis Winston is sharp, the Saints’ wideouts can still pose problems for the Vikings’ secondary if they are too cautious.
  3. Vikings’ defense needs to get off the field. My colleague Eli noted here that the Lions were able to consistently move the chains on fourth down. While we don’t know how often the Saints will go for it on fourth down, the fact remains that it is demoralizing for a defense to consistently allow drives to continue. So, the Vikings need to have a good percentage of stopping the Saints on both third and fourth down attempts. While we have had a lot of good “bend, don’t break” drives, we are still giving opponents too many opportunities to sustain long-scoring drives. Be aggressive on third and 7, and load the box on fourth and two. Do something to challenge the confidence of Winston and this offense.

Injury Report

Please note that this article was written Thursday night. Make sure you check the updated injury report with game statuses on Friday afternoon. For the moment, it appears as if the Vikings will see Dalvin Cook play, and should also see the return of Harrison Smith, who fully participated for the second consecutive day on Thursday. C.J. Ham and Eric Kendricks also were full participants.

For the Saints, we need to continue monitoring the status of Jameis Winston, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, it is not certain whether Michael Thomas will play, and his absence would be a significant loss for the New Orleans offense. The other ten Saints’ players listed on the injury report were at least limited participants at practice.

Final Thoughts

As a Tottenham Hotspur soccer fan myself, I actually think it’s quite cool that the Vikings get to play at their stadium. And as a parent with two small children, I will have no problem being up in time to watch the game.

I look forward to sipping on a hot cup of coffee, and I predict I’ll be about two cups in before I see Jefferson’s first touchdown reception. Yep, I think he gets back on track, and I think the Vikings win this one. I like the defense to set the tone early, and I think we build off of the positives from last week. I do think Jameis will hit us for at least one deep touchdown, and the Saints will hang tough, but I have the Vikings taking this one 24-13.

What’s your prediction? Will you change your gameday meal due to the start time? Let me know, @Jlime8 on Twitter. Then, follow the whole crew @DailySkol on Twitter. And hit up for great insights into Week 4’s entire slate of games.