Vikings Can Exploit Saints’ Linebackers


The Minnesota Vikings seemingly put an end to the most emotionally draining week in team history when ownership re-suspended superstar running back Adrian Peterson late Tuesday night. Peterson’s indefinite suspension for abuse of his four-year-old son satisfied the wishes of, what had become, an increasingly frustrated and irritated general public. While it appears this distraction may have finally been put to rest, the Vikings road to redemption will not be getting easier anytime soon. The Vikings face a daunting matchup against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday at noon.

Simply put, the Vikings “chose” a very bad week to be distracted by an off the field issue. The Saints finished the 2013 season undefeated at home during the regular season and have not lost at the Superdome since December 30th, 2012. Also, the Saints have relinquished fourth quarter leads with three seconds or less remaining in regulation time in consecutive weeks, which should provide them with plenty of motivation.

Not only are the Vikings losing the intangibles battle by a wide margin, but the suspension of Peterson also takes the team’s most dangerous player off the field. Combine the Vikings loss of Peterson with all the intangible advantages the Saints presumably have and, on paper, this game appears to be a mismatch. However, the 2014 edition of the Saints has a glaring weakness: Defense.

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  • According to

    , only two of the Saints’ defensive starters and one backup have produced a positive overall grade through two weeks this year. More importantly, these three players, DE

    Cameron Jordan

    , LB

    Junior Galette

    and backup DE

    Tyrunn Walker

    are all defensive linemen.

    While Galette is technically considered to be a linebacker, he receives the majority of his snaps in the Saints’ defense on the defensive line as a drop linebacker. In fact, Galette played defensive end for the Saints in the past and is listed as a defensive lineman on PFF because of how rarely he lines up in conventional linebacker position. A brief overview of the Saints’ defensive film from their week 2 matchup against the Cleveland Browns verifies this information.

    While this does mean the Saints have had an effective defensive line this season, it also means the rest of their defense can be exposed. Their starting secondary of CB Keenan Lewis (-3.9), SS Kenny Vaccaro (-5.5), FS Jairus Byrd (-1.1) and CB Patrick Robinson (-4.1) have all recorded dreadful overall performance grades, according to PFF. In pass coverage, this group has received an atrocious combined grade of -11.5 so far this season. Based of these grades, targeting the Saints’ secondary seems like a solid game plan, but history suggests these four players are actually much better than their performance so far this season suggests.

    The Saints’ group of linebackers, however, have played terribly this season and have a history of performing at a below average level, especially in pass coverage. Galette excluded, due to primarily being used as a drop linebacker, LB Curtis Lofton (-2.5), LB Davis Hawthorne (-2.5) and LB Parys Haralson (-0.1) have not played well this year as a group. While all three Saints’ linebackers have received negative overall PFF grades to this point in the season, Hawthorne should be considered the prime target to expose.

    Hawthorne (-2.3) has been terrible in pass coverage so far this season and his history (-6.2 in 2013, -3.1 in 2012) suggests he is actually worse in coverage than his play this season suggests. The Vikings have the personnel to create a matchup nightmare against Hawthorne with TE Kyle Rudolph, all-purpose WR Cordarrelle Patterson or potentially even WR Jarius Wright in a slot-receiver role. If OC Norv Turner can find a way to match any of these three players up with Hawthorne in man coverage, it should come as no surprise when he tries to exploit Hawthorne’s glaring weakness in pass coverage.

    Sure, this one aspect may prove to be the Vikings’ only decisive advantage in this matchup, but if their offense can consistently exploit the Saints linebackers’ weakness in pass coverage, win the turnover battle and show mental toughness, the Vikings may actually be able to make this “mismatch” competitive.