The New Orleans Saints (1-2) will be without quarterback Jameis Winston (back and ankle) and receiver Michael Thomas (foot) against the Minnesota Vikings (2-1) when the teams play Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
Major absences, absolutely, but not enough of a deterrent if New Orleans can apply several correctable practices to the gameplan.
1. TIGHT SQUEEZE: With Andy Dalton at quarterback, the recipe doesn't change – the name of the game on offense is holding on to the football. The Saints have eight turnovers in the last two games, and that's about half a season's worth. Unsurprisingly, New Orleans lost both. Dalton hasn't taken a snap this year, but he’s a veteran with 148 starts in his 12-year career. He knows the offense and he knows how to distribute the ball. The offensive line has to keep him clean against a tough Minnesota defensive front, and Dalton has to do his part by getting the ball out in a timely fashion. What New Orleans cannot do is continue to give up turnovers that result directly in points, as has been the case the past two games. The offense hasn't shown the ability to play well enough to overcome that.
2. MORE ALVIN: There may have to be some force-feeding here, but running back Alvin Kamara needs the ball in his hands. Twenty-nine touches in two games isn't enough (one was injury-shortened). Kamara wields much influence, and getting him isolated on some routes will be beneficial to the offense overall, especially with Thomas unavailable. Kamara is the most accomplished skill position player for the Saints, and getting him involved early and often never has been a bad approach for this offense. Plus, his presence and usage can help ease Dalton into the game and relieve some of the pressure on the quarterback.
3. BACK TO BASICS: This defense has to become the run-stopping unit, consistently, that it has been known to be the previous five seasons. New Orleans is allowing 139.3 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. The Vikings average 104 yards per game, but 4.9 per carry and there's no way Minnesota won't test the Saints' run defense having seen how vulnerable it has been in two of three games. Stopping the run will make the Vikings one-dimensional, but stopping the run hasn't been a given this season. Defensive end Cameron Jordan said defensive players have been trying to do a little too much individually; the trust needs to be there in this one for the Saints on defense, because if they can't stop the run, they're going to have a long day against the Vikings' potent offense.
4. BRING THE HEAT: Stopping the run is only half the equation. Do that, then a defense still has to deal with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson. The Saints may simply choose to match up cornerback Marshon Lattimore one-on-one against Jefferson, especially if Paulson Adebo is ready to play a full complement of reps at the other cornerback spot. Adebo arguably was the Saints' best player in training camp before he was sidelined by an ankle injury. If he's close to that form, New Orleans will feel really good about its outside coverage and if that holds, then the defensive line will have time to wreak some havoc. The takeaways haven't been there for the Saints (three fumble recoveries and no interceptions this season), so this is an opportune time to force a couple and help out the offense.
5. HAPPY FOOT: Whatever issues plagued the snap-hold-kick operation against Carolina, where Wil Lutz had a 30-yard field-goal attempt blocked and a 48-yard attempt sail wide right, hopefully have been ironed out. Few NFL games are decided by two scores or more, and points are precious. Lutz is confident in his abilities, as he should be. The Saints probably will need him, especially if the offense continues to stall.
New Orleans Saints held practice in London on Thursday, Sept. 29 ahead of their Sunday game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4 of the 2022 NFL season.