Bent but never Broken
The Vikings’ defense started just as it did in 2016, with a dominant performance. Tasked with facing the number two scoring offense from last season, the Vikings didn’t give up a touchdown until they were up by 17 with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Saints were able to march down the field into the red zone three times, but each time the Vikings forced them to settle for just three points. Had one of those drives resulted in a touchdown, the result of the game could have easily swung in the Saints’ favor.
To say Mike Zimmer and company strategized to perfection may be going too far (the performance wasn’t quite up to the Panthers game last season), but they were able to severely restrict one of the best offenses in the NFL. Forgoing his usual blitz happy strategy Zimmer opted to rely on his front four to pressure Drew Brees and dropped his remaining defenders into coverage.
The defensive line may have failed to live up to their usual gaudy numbers (just a single sack by Everson Griffen) and Brees managed to complete a few long passes (here’s looking at you Trae Waynes), but the lack of touchdowns speaks for itself.
It wasn’t only touchdowns that were at a premium, New Orleans also found rushing yards hard to come by. Despite a backfield that looked mightily impressive on paper, Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara all failed to top three yards per carry.
The Vikings’ front seven looked impenetrable and with Ben Gedeon seamlessly replacing Chad Greenway, the Saints were held to 60 yards on 21 carries. It wasn’t just the front seven who impressed in run support, as Harrison Smith flew all over the field, particularly impressing those at Pro Football Focus.
"“86.8 OVERALL GRADE Smith, the Vikings’ All-Pro safety, started this season the same way he has played his entire career, a solid, dependable playmaker. Smith had the Vikings’ highest defensive grade of the night, excelling in both run defense and in coverage. Smith was targeted three times, allowing two catches for 17 yards (only five of which were after the catch) and added in a pass defensed for an 84.1 coverage grade. In run defense he was disruptive, recording one stop and finished with an 86.4 run defense grade”"
With Big Ben and the vaunted Killer B’s of the Pittsburgh Steelers looking to show that their struggles against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday were a momentary blip on their way to meeting dominant expectations, Week 2 offers no let up for Zimmer and Minnesota’s defense. Zimmer will undoubtedly alter his strategy for his upcoming foes, but the Vikings have certainly have shown the ability to go toe to toe with the best.