The Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have asked for anything more from their offense on opening night as they thrashed the New Orleans Saints 29-19. Here are several observations from the Vikings’ Monday night victory:
Late in the second quarter, the Vikings’ deep passing game made an appearance as Bradford led a three-play, 74-yard touchdown drive on back-to-back-to-back explosive passes. Both Bradford’s 21-yard throw to Jarius Wright and 18-yard touchdown toss to Stefon Diggs were set up by play-action. Even with zero running game last year, the Vikings were one of the league’s better teams on play-action plays and it appears that will continue this season.
The biggest criticism of Bradford last season was that he checked down too often. Early in the game that was the case, but when he was given protection in the second quarter, the Vikings hit five throws over 15 yards, including a 44-yard throw with time running out in the half.
The Vikings’ quarterback did not slow down in the second half, opening up with a 30-yard throw to Stefon Diggs. He also hit Adam Thielen on several throws down the field.
Bradford finished the game 27-for-32 with 346 yards and three touchdowns.
Diggs and Thielen are one of the league’s best combos
Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen as top-20 receivers. They may not have received their due credit because the Vikings’ offense struggled. On Monday night, Diggs and Thielen reminded the league how dangerous they are.
Diggs caught two touchdowns in the first half, including an outstanding contested grab in the corner of the end zone. He made another terrific catch down the sideline in which the DB was called for pass interference but he nabbed the ball anyway. Diggs ended with seven catches for 93 yards.
Thielen has a knack for getting open downfield and he showed that on multiple occasions on Monday, finishing with nine catches for 157 yards.
Strong debut for Dalvin Cook
During training camp and preseason, Dalvin Cook convinced the Vikings that he could be a true No. 1 running back. He showed all the signs of that on opening night. Not only did Cook effectively run the ball, finishing with 127 yards on 22 carries, he also was very good in pass protecting, picking up blitzes on several occasions.
Elflein and the O-line with a solid start
Sam Bradford was sacked one time and was protected exceptionally well throughout Monday night’s game. He routinely sat back in the pocket and worked the ball downfield – which he was not able to do at all last year. Both tackles played well. Mike Remmers gave up one sack and had a (questionable) holding penalty, but Bradford was rarely touched.
In the running game, Pat Elflein was solid at center and the Vikings put on a much better display on the ground that at almost any time in 2016.
Don’t forget the defense
Leading up to the Vikings/Saints matchup, Mike Zimmer praised Drew Brees for his ability to handle the rush and effectively read defenses. But on Monday night, Brees, who has led the NFL in passing five of the last six years, struggled to find open receivers. He was consistently under pressure and rarely had time to work the ball downfield. The Vikings’ defense had several huge red zone stops, forcing the Saints to kick three field goals.
Adrian Peterson’s return to Minnesota was one of the NFL’s most hyped stories, but outside of AP’s 9-yard run to open the game, he was a ghost. At one point, the broadcast showed Peterson yelling toward head coach Sean Payton. Peterson caught a pass inside the red zone late in the game and failed to punch the ball in. The Saints appeared to favor rookie Alvin Kamara over the former Viking. Peterson finished with 18 yards on six carries.