On September 11th, the New Orleans Saints will kick-off the 2017 season at U.S. Bank Stadium as they take on the Minnesota Vikings. The game is the first of ESPN’s Monday Night Football double header. Going into the game, the Saints are 3.5 point underdogs. Below, we’ll highlight five players/battles to watch.

1) Ryan Ramcyzk

After Terron Armstead tore his labrum, it became quite clear that first-round draft pick, Ryan Ramcyzk, would be expected to start at left tackle. Ramcyzk saw some time against the San Diego Chargers in the preseason, and the results were mixed. He stood out when blocking for the run a number of times, but there were several reps in pass protection that he badly lost to Melvin Ingram, one of the NFL’s underrated pass rushers.

Last year, the Vikings had one of the most potent pass rushes in the league as they sacked opposing quarterbacks 41 times. Danielle Hunter (12.5 sacks) and Everson Griffen (8 sacks) highlight this group. Ryan Ramcyzk has the responsibility of protecting Brees’ blindside, and it’s likely the Vikings will target the left side of the Saints offensive line.

If Ramcyzk performs well, it’s likely the offense will put up points. If he struggles, the team will have a tough time moving the ball downfield. It’s well-known that if Drew Brees is given time, he’ll punish opposing defenses. The Saints will rely on Ramcyzk to limit the amount of pressure that gets to Brees. Sean Payton is one of the best when it comes to schematically minimizing the impact of edge defenders, so don’t be surprised to see more packages that utilize two tight ends.

2) Adrian Peterson

Going into the game, the most talked about story has been Adrian Peterson’s homecoming. Although the storyline may seem drawn out at this point, there is merit to its importance. It is still yet to be seen how much Peterson has left in the tank and how the Saints plan to use him.

On the latest official depth chart, Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson were listed as co-starters. Chances are Peterson will get quite a few touches. If he can run well, the Saints offense will be better prepared to play a more balanced game. Peterson has always been a hard runner, but I’d bet he runs with a little extra juice against his former team.

3) Saints D-line vs. Vikings O-line

There is a sense of optimism surrounding the Saints defense right now. The starters looked good in the preseason, but can they continue that trend into the regular season? Last year, the Vikings’ weaknesses as an offense started with the offensive line. They gave up 37 sacks and allowed opposing defenses to create constant pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford.

Defensive success will most easily be achieved if the Saints defensive line is able to create pressure and effectively stop the run. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Cameron Jordan should be frequent visitors in the Vikings’ backfield. The Saints secondary would greatly benefit from a strong performance from the defensive line.

2013 New Orleans Saints Season
New Orleans Saints 38 – Miami Dolphins 17
September 30, 2013
Photo by Michael C. Hebert.

4) Marshon Lattimore

Although the most recent official depth chart didn’t list rookie Marshon Lattimore as a starter, he’ll more than likely be lining up with P.J. Williams at outside cornerback. Lattimore was impressive in his two preseason games, and the Saints will need him to continue to play as he did if they are to see defensive improvement.

At Ohio State, Lattimore rarely played zone coverage, so it will be interesting to see how he does with his zone assignments Monday night. It wouldn’t be surprising if defensive coordinator calls more man coverage assignments to play to Lattimore’s strengths. One would expect Lattimore to matchup with Stefon Diggs more often than not as he is best equipped to defend Diggs’ crisp routes. It’ll be interesting to see how often the Vikings target the rookie corner.

5) Dalvin Cook

The Vikings’ rookie running back could cause some problems for the Saints defense on Monday night. Cook has become the Vikings’ top running back, and he has the potential to break off long runs. In addition to his ability to run the ball, Cook is a threat in the passing game.

The Saints linebackers have displayed better speed so far, and they’re going to need that speed if they are to cover Dalvin Cook in the flats and down the field. No one is quite sure what the Saints’ defensive game plan will be, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see safeties Kenny Vaccaro or Vonn Bell move down into the slot to defend Cook.

If Dalvin Cook is able to post large numbers in the running or passing game, the Saints could be in trouble.

Predictions

  1. The Saints win by a score of 24-17.
  2. Adrian Peterson ends the night with one rushing touchdown and less than 40 rushing yards.
  3. The Vikings sack Drew Brees three times.