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The New Orleans Saints travel north again this week Alvin Kamara Jersey , again to take on a division leader. This time, it's to face the NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings. The Saints (5-1) have won five straight games, while the Vikings (4-2-1) have won three straight. This is the third time in a little over a year that New Orleans has played the Vikings, all in Minnesota, and the third different Viking quarterback that they will face in that time. The Saints defense has risen to 18th in the league in total yardage after early struggles, but still has concerning breakdowns against the pass. They oppose a Minnesota offense that averages 380 yards and 25 points per game. One that torched the Saints pass defense in two games a year ago. Let's have a look at how the rematch shapes up for a Saints defense playing with confidence. SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMuch of the discussion all week of course is about about the final play of the divisional playoff game between the two teams. As most know, with ten seconds to go in that playoff game after New Orleans had completed a comeback that had it looking like they were about to pull off the upset, then-Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum completed the improbable 61-yd. touchdown strike to Stefon Diggs to pull out the victory. New Orleans has had their struggles against the pass this season, currently sitting 28th in the league rankings and giving up 294 yards per game through the air. On Tuesday, the Saints completed a trade with the New York Giants for cornerback Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick of the 2016 draft. While it looks doubtful that Apple will make his New Orleans debut this week, it's clear that the team felt the need to upgrade their coverage. The secondary has done a better job at limiting big plays over the last month, but coverage and communication breakdowns were still evident last week against Baltimore. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams are again playing good football after a slow start to the season, and Vonn Bell has proven to be a solid compliment at the other safety spot. Opposing teams have targeted Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams heavily though, often with success. Cameron Jordan continues to be a pass rushing force, commanding double and sometimes triple teams. He has 5 of the team's 13 sacks, and is the emotional leader of the defense. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and ends Marcus Davenport and Alex Okafor have combined for five sacks and have pressured the quarterback well at times, but need to show more consistency to help the secondary. The Saints linebackers have contained opposing backs and tight ends well in their coverage responsibilities, and each have been used as effective blitzers. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMinnesota's pass offense ranks 7th in the league, and averages 293 yards per game. The Vikings made one of the league's most talked about offseason moves when they signed former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins to a record breaking free agent deal. Cousins has been a bit up and down so far, completing 70% of his throws, throwing for 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and eclipsing the 400-yd. mark twice this season. The Saints defense is familiar with Cousins, facing him twice while with Washington. Cousins riddled the New Orleans coverage in those contests, averaging 323 yards while throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He has even better receivers to work with in Minnesota that he had in Washington. Adam Thielen is one of the NFL's most productive and underrated wideouts. Thielen has had over 100 yards receiving and at least six receptions in every game this year Marshon Lattimore Jersey White , and has caught 67 passes for 822 yards and five scores. Stefon Diggs would be the top receiver on many teams, and has added 48 catches for 468 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is an excellent mid-range target, and has 28 receptions for 282 yards and two scores, and three of wideout Aldrick Robinson's four receptions have gone for touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell, the 23rd overall pick of the 2016 draft, is well on pace for his best season with 22 catches for 191 yards. Minnesota uses their running backs little in the passing game, often using them as extra protection against the pass rush, but can be dangerous in the open field out of the backfield. Cousins, who has a reputation of holding the ball as long as possible, has been sacked 19 times this year, and the Vikings offensive line is considered a team weakness. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports~ Matchup to Watch: Saints secondary vs. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs ~Stefon Diggs is a name that will haunt Saints fans for the rest of eternity, but it is Thielen and his outstanding route running that often breaks a defense. Thielen had 15 catches for 231 yards in the two games between these teams last year, including 157 yards in the 2017 season opener. Diggs added 13 receptions for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns against New Orleans, including the playoff heartbreaker. Marshon Lattimore, who played sparingly in the '17 opener, will likely draw Thielen in many one on one match ups, but the entire Saints secondary must find a way to limit both Viking stars. SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs. VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsNew Orleans continues to play outstanding run defense. They have allowed only 72 rushing yards per game, and opposing rushers are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, both best in the NFL. Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth may miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, but Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and David Onyemata continue to stonewall blockers inside. The New Orleans defensive ends play the run as well as any edge unit in the league, and the entire defense flows to the run aggressively. Saints linebackers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein are every down players who have been playmakers against the running game this entire season. Davis (49 tackles) and Klein (31) are the defense's top tacklers, and often snuff out plays before they ever get going. Manti Te'o returned to the lineup last week after missing two games with injury, and gives the New Orleans defense another solid defender against the run. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsLatavius Murray (330 yards https://www.thesaintslockerroom.com/authentic-drew-brees-jersey , 4.8 average, 3 touchdowns) is the Vikings leading rusher for a 27th ranked rushing attack that averages only 87 yards per game. Dalvin Cook, last year's promising rookie, has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury after missing most of last season with injury. He has carried the ball 36 times for just 98 yards, but the Saints defense knows what Cook is capable of when healthy. Cook rolled over the New Orleans defense for 127 yards on 22 carries in last year's season opener. Murray can capably produce in the running game, however, and Minnesota will look to establish the run on early downs to open up their explosive passing attack. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports~ Matchup to Watch: Cam Jordan/Marcus Davenport/Sheldon Rankins vs. Vikings offensive line Jordan, Rankins, and the rookie Davenport have been the playmakers on a Saints defensive line that has played very well for the most part this season. They'll be going up against a Minnesota offensive line that is not only inconsistent, but banged up as well. Left tackle Riley Reiff has missed the last two games with a foot injury, and guard Tom Compton exited last week with a knee injury. Both players are questionable for this week, and would be replaced by unproven players on a struggling line. New Orleans has the potential to dominate this match up, and must do so to stop the run and force Minnesota into third and long situations. They must also be able to get to Cousins early in the pass rush and either get him on the ground or force a rushed throw into coverage. WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsThe Vikings converted an eye-popping 61% of their 3rd down opportunities against the Saints in their two games a year ago. Minnesota is converting at a 38% rate on 3rd downs so far this year, while the New Orleans defense is 42% on 3rd downs. The key to beating a Kirk Cousins offense is heavy pressure from the front line. He reads the blitz well, and receivers Thielen, Diggs, and Rudolph make excellent adjustments to get open quickly. New Orleans looks to have the advantage against the run, but must be able to convert pressure into hits and sacks on Cousins while holding up in coverage. The biggest battle of the game will be in the secondary, where the Saints have just two interceptions this year and continue to have breakdowns in key moments, looking particularly vulnerable at the end of games. Fans will always remember that Marcus Williams missed the tackle on Diggs to allow the divisional playoff loss. What they forget is how well Williams had played during the game, including an acrobatic interception that keyed the Saints comeback. While Williams doesn't necessarily view this as a chance for "redemption", all eyes will be on him and the rest of the New Orleans secondary in this battle of NFC contenders. DeMarcus Lawrence may not reach his career high in sacks during the encore to the Dallas defensive end's breakthrough season in the NFL.By any measure from his coaches and teammates, Lawrence's follow-up to 14 1/2 sacks has been a success . A big one."With the things that we've changed in the defense, he has to more disciplined in the run and things of that sort," defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. "Sacks are a good number for everybody else mainly. As far as a good player on a good defense Womens Marshon Lattimore Jersey , you're not going to find a better one."Lawrence has 8 1/2 sacks through 12 games. The fifth-year pro had that many in five games last year. But Lawrence collected his first career interception on a screen pass two games ago against Washington before helping lead the defense's signature moment in 2018.The Cowboys bottled up Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a 13-10 win that set them up for sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Dallas took that spot with the Redskins' loss to Philadelphia.Now Dallas (7-5) gets its rematch with the Eagles (6-6) on Sunday, with first place on the line just as it was on Thanksgiving against Washington. The Cowboys started their current four-game winning streak with a victory in Philadelphia."I have my ups and down this season. No complaining about it," Lawrence said. "I really embrace this season. It just shows how much we really care, how much I really care, just because of how we're standing as a defense. I feel like everything is looking up."And that was before the Cowboys held the Saints to 176 yards, their lowest total in 22 years and more than 200 yards below their season average. While rookie Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have taken a large share of the spotlight at linebacker, Lawrence's presence up front is significant.Lawrence has played the most snaps among defensive linemen by more than 100. He's getting the blocking attention of someone who tied for second in the NFL in sacks a year ago. And he's still stopping the run, something defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli says Lawrence has always done well."I think he is absolutely playing dynamic in every phase of the game," Marinelli said. "He's from sideline to sideline to screens to picking a screen off, to doing things exactly right. He can do everything. And he leads this defense by his effort. He's relentless."Crawford believes another look at film from last season would reveal more missed assignments by Lawrence than this season, another reason to pick other things over sacks as the measure of Lawrence's worth. Lawrence also embraced the intangibles coming off his first big year."The guy has worked harder than I've ever seen him work, especially throughout the offseason and into the season," Crawford said. "He's become more of a leader in the locker room. The guy's been balling. He's just got to keep it up."Lawrence's first season with double-digit sacks led to his first Pro Bowl and a franchise tag worth $17.1 million . The 26-year-old happily signed it, believing the security of a long-term contact would follow another solid season.The sides never got close on that deal last offseason, and the question of another year on the franchise tag will hover until they get close, if they do. Lawrence has never let himself get bothered by that question."Last year is last year," he said. "Ain't nobody saying, 'OK, D-Law had 14 1/2 sacks, he deserves the Pro Bowl this year or he deserves to be in the Super Bowl.' It's all on me. Like I said, I embrace it. Absolutely I want to be better than 14 1/2 and I've got to keep working day in and day out in order to get there."The Cowboys are measuring in other ways.
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