As we dig into every detail of the Minnesota Vikings’ postseason matchup with the New Orleans Saints, one thing that stands out is how each team has performed in key situations.
For the Vikings, they rank at the top of the league in both offensive and defensive third down percentage, converting 43.5 percent of all third downs (3rd in the NFL) and allowing 25.2 percent of third downs against (1st).
“We spend an extra day on it and we have a group third down meeting,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We spend a lot of time on third downs in the red zone. We have a third down meeting, a red zone and then we talk a lot about third downs in the red zone. We’ve been good all year long, but more so in the last few weeks.”
The Vikings are ninth in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage.
One of the reasons the Vikings have excelled on third down is quarterback Case Keenum’s execution on third-and-short. Keenum has the seventh best quarterback rating on third downs with fewer than six yards to go and the Vikings are second best at converting third-and-shorts.
They will have an advantage against the Saints on third-and-short as New Orleans’ defense ranks 22nd in first downs allowed in those situations.
On the defensive side, Zimmer’s club ranks No. 1 on third-and-shorts allowed, while the Saints’ offense also ranks 22nd.
Where the Saints have an edge is on third-and-long.
Drew Brees completed 71.4 percent of passes this season on third-and-six or more for an average of 8.0 yards per attempt and a 96.7 rating. As a team, New Orleans seventh on third-and-long.
While the Vikings’ defense is No. 2 on third-and-long, Minnesota’s offense is far less effective when put in a bind. Case Keenum only ahead of Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler and Eli Manning on third-and-long with 5.7 yards per attempt on third-and-long and the Vikings rank 20th on third-and-long conversion rate.
The Saints lost their Week 1 matchup with the Vikings in the red zone, where they were forced to kick two of their four field goals (the other two were from inside the 25-yard line). Since then, Brees and Co. have turned things around, ranking fifth overall in red zone touchdown percentage. On defense, the Vikings allowed the third fewest touchdowns in the NFL inside the red zone.
The bottom line: Like every other area of Vikings-Saints, the matchup is extremely close. Whichever team performs better in big situations will likely come out the winner.