The last time the New Orleans Saints managed a "fast" start, they won their first five games of the 2013 season, advanced to the playoffs and won the first road playoff game in franchise history. In subsequent seasons, New Orleans has lost its first two, three and three games and finished 7-9 each year. So, it's with good reason that the team stresses winning early. Here are a few ways that might be accomplished Monday night, on the road against the Vikings:
- Will the defense that the Saints played during preseason carry over to the regular season? That will go a long way toward New Orleans having success early, late and in the middle this year. No, the Saints don't have to be dominant defensively and yes, it will be difficult to post the numbers that the Saints stacked during preseason (second overall in total defense at 235.5 yards allowed per game, third in run defense at 74.3 yards allowed, fourth in pass defense at 161.3, third in points allowed at 10.2 and tied for first in sacks with 17). But they believe that their play wasn't a mirage and if they're right, we likely will see evidence of it Monday night. Watch the three rookies who are expected to play prominent roles – CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams and LB Alex Anzalone. If they don't start, they probably will play starter-level snaps.
- It's hard to imagine that in the last decade, any team has had as much uncertainty at long snapper during the offseason as the Saints have had this offseason. Zach Wood will be the sixth player to attempt to fill the position, and he just joined the team Friday, after a tryout. The team thought it had the problem solved with the fourth and fifth candidates, but the re-signed Justin Drescher got injured and after the Saints traded for Jon Dorenbos, it was discovered that he had an aortic aneurysm that required career-ending surgery. It might not sound like much, but there's a chemistry that needs to be developed between long snapper and holder, and long snapper and punter, that's as precarious as the cohesion that must be developed along the offensive line. Tenths of a second are critical. The Saints can't afford any special teams gaffes on the road.
- And speaking of offensive line cohesion, this one hasn't had a ton of work together. Center Max Unger missed most of the offseason and preseason with foot surgery and rehab, and rookie left tackle Ryan Ramczyk missed preseason time with an injury. The unit – which includes left guard Andrus Peat, right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Zach Strief – needs to be on point because the Vikings have a formidable defensive line. The new Vikings stadium, we're told, was engineered to promote sound so it could be difficult to hear. Thus, the line needs to be able to communicate, which generally isn't a problem with a line that has logged much time as a unit. This one hasn't and Ramczyk, in particular, will be tested.
- For those who have been salivating, the time has come: This game will present the first real chance to see exactly the type of impact RB Zach Line will have on the Saints' offense. Obviously, the former Viking is amped to play against the franchise for which he built his Hall of Fame resume (11,747 rushing yards and 97 touchdowns in 10 seasons). But this is a different Peterson and offense than the NFL grew accustomed to seeing when he was a Viking. If Minnesota packs the box with defenders with Peterson on the field, all the better for the Saints passing game. If the Vikings show ample respect for New Orleans' passing game and Drew Brees, that should equate to run lanes for Peterson. If, indeed, the Saints are poised to show more commitment to the run game, then Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara should prosper this season and the prosperity could begin against Minnesota.