The Saints can talk all they want about how the Vikings are still the same team with or without running back Adrian Peterson.
It’s all lip service and isn’t fooling anyone. Minnesota’s offense begins and ends with Peterson. But without him on the field, this week it will begin and end with quarterback Matt Cassel. That’s a good thing for Saints fans.
Cassel is a perfectly fine quarterback if you are not relying on him to move the ball and win games for you. Once you take him out of the role of game manager, things begin to unravel.
His performance last week against the New England Patriots is Exhibit A. After falling into an early deficit, Cassel attempted 36 passes, completed 19 and threw four interceptions. A repeat performance would be welcomed by a Saints team still looking for its first win.
The key to making that happen is to avoid another slow start like the one that plagued the Saints in last week’s loss at the Browns, stopping the running game and forcing Cassel to try to dig the Vikings out of the hole.
Minnesota has a decent defense that can generate pressure and a pair of cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson, who have yet to establish an identity in the secondary. The group looked good in a Week 1 win over St. Louis but was rather unimpressive last week against New England. The Vikings only hurried Tom Brady five times, and Tom Brady connected on 14 of 21 passes.
Added together, the Saints should be primed to pick up their first win of the season and get their season back on track.
But after losing to the Browns and dropping a heartbreaker to the Falcons, nothing can be taken for granted.
Know your opponent: Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson won’t impress anyone with his route running or receiving stats. But that doesn’t mean the Saints can afford to sleep on him.
Described as one of the most explosive players with the ball in his hands by Saints coach Sean Payton, Patterson has the ability to break a game open whenever he touches the ball.
His kick returns have become a staple on highlight shows, and he’s starting to put together an impressive reel of offensive plays.
Minnesota is well aware of his liabilities as a receiver, so it has created other ways to get the ball in his hands by getting him the ball on screens and sweeps. There are some similarities between the way the Saints use Brandin Cooks and the Vikings employ Patterson.
Minnesota likes to motion Patterson around the field often to catch the defense sleeping and has been successful doing so.
Patterson had three carries for 103 yards in a Week 1 win over the Rams. Two of those carries, which amounted to 90 yards, came after Patterson motioned across the formation.
In other words, New Orleans needs to be aware of him on every snap Minnesota takes.
Three and out
1. Secondary concerns: The New Orleans secondary has to perform better this week — namely Patrick Robinson. The cornerback was pulled from the base defense and replaced by Corey White last week after a few miscues. If he has earned back the coaching staff’s trust, he needs to show improvement this week.
2. Khiry’s time: Fans and media have been clamoring for Khiry Robinson to get a bigger role at running back. He’ll have that opportunity for at least a few weeks after Mark Ingram went down with a broken hand. The running game has been a strength this season, and Robinson needs to make sure it remains one.
3. Needing turnovers: The Saints talked all offseason about creating turnovers and how things were going to be different this season. That hasn’t been the case. New Orleans has produced one turnover through two weeks. The division-leading Panthers have produced six. Notice a difference?
OUT: RB Mark Ingram (fractured hand), LB David Hawthorne (ankle), FB Erik Lorig (ankle), S Marcus Ball (hamstring)
-- Ingram and Hawthorne were hurt in the loss at Cleveland. RB Khiry Robinson and LB Ramon Humber will see more action in their spots. Lorig and Ball missed Weeks 1 and 2.
QUESTIONABLE: C/G Tim Lelito (back)
-- Lelito appeared on the injury report for the first time Friday. If he can’t go, expect Senio Kelemete to be active for his first regular-season game with the Saints to provide depth.
PROBABLE: LB Curtis Lofton (shoulder), C Jonathan Goodwin (elbow), LB Kyle Knox (ankle), WR Joseph Morgan (knee)
-- All fully practiced Friday.
Questionable: DT Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), LB Chad Greenway (hand, rib), TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen), LB Brandon Watts (knee)
Probable: T Phil Loadholt (ankle), LB Michael Mauti (foot), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest), CB Xavier Rhodes (groin), WR Rodney Smith (hamstring)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 35, Vikings 17
If the Saints’ streak of 17 victories at home (including the playoffs) with Sean Payton coaching ends Sunday, their headquarters will not be a pleasant place. It’d be incredibly tough for the Saints to salvage their Super Bowl hopes after an 0-3 start. But they know that, and they won’t let an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings team compromise their fortress.
Nick Underhill: Saints 30, Vikings 20
Maybe the road woes are real. It looks that way after losses to the Falcons and Browns. But the Saints have no issues winning in the Dome and are fortunate to be coming up against a team that will be without its greatest star. This one should be no problem for the Saints as they look to put all the talk about their slow start behind them.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 31, Vikings 17
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome must look more like a sanctuary than just home field to the Saints. Though saddled with the NFL’s worst pass defense, the Saints are able to corral the Vikings’ NFL-worst pass offense thanks to the adrenaline shot of finally getting to play at home. New Orleans exacts revenge on Minnesota for beating it out for the 2018 Super Bowl.