The 2017 NFL season officially started on Thursday when the Kansas City Chiefs upset the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 42-27. For 28 of the remaining 30 teams, their seasons begin this weekend.
The Minnesota Vikings will open their season when they host the New Orleans Saints as the first of a doubleheader on Monday night. After a 2-2 preseason, the Vikings look to start off 2017 as they did 2016 when they were the last remaining team to lose a game after a 5-0 start.
However, in order for that to happen, the team will need a solid all-around performance versus a Saints team also looking to make a move in their own division. Here’s what is likely to be part of that performance:
1. Stop the Run!
This has been a problem for the Vikings the past three seasons. This has to be the top priority. With former Viking Adrian Peterson, veteran Mark Ingram, and rookie Alvin Kamara in the Saints backfield, it would have to be considered a formality that the Saints will most certainly look to establish the running game early. The Vikings front seven must negate this early. What will help them with this task is…
2. The Offense needs to start fast
The offense didn’t score a single touchdown during the preseason, leading many to show great concern heading into the regular season. Despite that, there is more than enough talent on this unit for teams to take notice. Vikings quarterback, Sam Bradford, needs to get his offense to put up points early and often to help negate what could potentially be a strong Saints rushing attack and force their quarterback, Drew Brees, to win the game himself, something he’s had to do too often much of the past several seasons.
3. Pressure and hit Drew Brees often
This task has been very difficult to accomplish, even for the best of defenses. The Vikings have one of the deepest defensive lines and has several pass rushing options to throw at the Saints offensive front. Despite that, Coach Mike Zimmer may have to dig into his play book and throw in a few blitz packages to get the needed pressure to rattle this Super Bowl-winning quarterback. There are few quarterbacks in the NFL who can manipulate and maneuver around the pocket better than Brees.
4. Offensive line: Create early Momentum
With a totally new personnel grouping, the offensive line needs to gel quickly, the sooner the better. The Saints defense provides an early opportunity to help make that happen. Though there is some talent, their defensive front seven is limited, and the secondary is still a work in progress. The Vikings offensive front must take advantage and use this game to establish a rhythm as the defenses they will face later in the season will become vastly more difficult.
5. Win Field Position and Time of Possession battles
The Vikings must limit the Saints offensive opportunities with long offensive possessions of their own and force their opponent to drive long fields on the possessions they get. With Brandin Cooks traded to New England in the offseason and Willie Snead suspended for this game, the Saints are limited on threats who can consistently stretch defenses outside of Ted Ginn Jr. This should provide the Vikings with advantages in keeping New Orleans on their own end of the field for a good portion of the game. If they can also limit the damage done by the running game, there’s little reason to think the Vikings won’t win these key battles.
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Clayton Brooks is a Staff Writer/Editor for cover32/Vikings. Tweet him @ClaytonRBrooks2