There isn't a good time to be coming off back-to-back games in which opponents combined for 425 rushing yards, even if you happen to be one of the NFL's best run defenses over the past three seasons.
It's even less appealing, on paper, when the next opponent – the Minnesota Vikings – will enter their Christmas Day game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the New Orleans Saints with one of the league's best running backs, who's having a career season.
The Saints (10-4), who already have clinched a playoff spot, will be seeking to win their fourth consecutive NFC South Division title with a victory. Likely, the best chance for the Vikings (6-8) to prevent that from happening will center on the effectiveness of running back Dalvin Cook, who has career highs in rushing touchdowns (a league-leading 15), yards (1,484) and attempts (297), and also has 42 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown.
"I think it's a combination of his talent and their front," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Those guys do a great job, that staff. They're very well-coached and they're very talented.
"He's an explosive back. I feel like every weekend when you're watching the highlights, you're seeing explosive runs. This team is first in the NFL in explosive plays, so when you combine passes of over 'X' amount of yards, runs of over 'X' amount of yards, this is one of the more explosive offenses in the game. So that's going to be a key element to at least try to neutralize."
There hasn't been an abundance of success by prior Minnesota opponents in that area, especially regarding Cook.
He has run for more than 100 yards in eight of his 13 games, and in the Vikings' six victories, he has run for 776 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught two passes for 63 yards and posted his receiving touchdown in one of the victories.
"He's a great back and most of the time defenses have to account for him," Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer said. "New Orleans has one (Alvin Kamara) just like him. I think they're both excellent players. We're just fortunate to have him. Dalvin's a tough, competitive kid, runs hard, really good feet."
"I think what makes him elite is his acceleration, his vision, his ability to be able to cut on a dime," Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. "He's a strong runner. He can do alignment passing game – a good pass-protecting running back. He can do it all, in all phases, and certainly playing like one of the best backs in the league right now."
The Saints, meanwhile, will be attempting to tighten up the run defense after allowing 246 to Philadelphia and 179 to Kansas City.
"They were entirely two different types of games and yet, we're going to get tested again here," Payton said. "I think you're always concerned as a coach, you're always focused on, 'All right, what are the things that we need to improve on?'
"And I felt like, honestly, I felt like defensively (against Kansas City), man, we battled and we hung in. We didn't do (the Saints defense) any favors offensively. When you go 1 of 11 (on third down) and your defense is going to be on the field for 90 plays…then all of a sudden, those numbers are going to be increased.
"But this has got to be a bounce-back week but more importantly, on a short schedule, we've got to get these guys ready for a physical running game, a team that knows how to run the football well and then play-action off of it. But coming off the last two games, it certainly catches your attention and you want to work on it."
The Saints hope to get back to doing the work that has led the defense to be among the best in the league.
"He's fast, he makes great decisions and when it comes to the running game, these last couple of years he's put on a show," defensive end Cameron Jordan said of Cook. "We have our work ahead of us.
"The last couple of games, I think we could have done a little bit better in our running game, and we're going to focus on that. Get back to our fundamentals, get back to playing our defense that we want to play and once we make a team one-dimensional, we can really start attacking them. So it's going to be on us to do everything we can to affect their offense."