As the Minnesota Vikings prepare to face off with the New Orleans Saints, we will focus on one key matchup each day. For part 4, we look at Cameron Jordan vs. the Vikings’ O-line. Read Part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.
Since the second year of his career, New Orleans Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan has been one of the most dangerous edge rushers in the NFL. But years of very bad overall defensive play by the Saints caused Jordan to be largely overlooked. He was twice ranked No. 99 in the NFL top 100 rankings and made two Pro Bowls before this year. With the Saints’ defense playing well, Jordan is finally getting the attention he deserves.
The Vikings’ offensive line has not only improved from last season, they have become one of the main reasons for the team’s offensive success. Not only have they done a good job protecting Case Keenum, their athleticism has allowed the Vikings to vastly improve in the run and screen game.
They have matched up with a number of great defensive linemen this season, especially at the defensive tackle position, but Jordan may be the best defensive end the Vikings have seen all year.
Since 2012, Jordan 58.5 sacks in 96 games, which equates to around 10 sacks per 16 games. He set a career high this season with 13.0 sacks during the regular season and added another one against Cam Newton and the Panthers in the Wild Card game. He also ranked seventh in the NFL in QB pressures. Jordan comes into the matchup with the Vikings on fire with 6.0 sacks in his last six games. The son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan impacts the game beyond just pass rushing. Over the last two years, he has 17 pass deflections and 16 run stuffs. Jordan was ranked the No. 1 edge rusher this year by Pro Football Focus.
Keenum both helped at hurt Minnesota’s numbers up front. The Vikings’ offensive line finished the season in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, in part because Keenum can escape the pocket or avoid sacks. But the individuals’ Pro Football Focus grades may have suffered because Keenum holds the ball longer than many QBs as he looks for a play downfield. Riley Reiff ranked 62nd of 84 in pass blocking, Mike Remmers was 36th and Rashod Hill 52nd. All three played above those rankings.
And all three could end up facing off with Jordan. The Saints’ D-end lines up on both sides of the defensive line depending on the situation. If the Vikings choose to keep Remmers at guard as he was in Week 17, then Hill will see Jordan the most.
In a league where many of the best edge rushers are on the lighter/speedier side, Jordan is one of the largest players at his position. At the 2012 NFL Combine, he ranked in the 90th percentile or above in weight, arm length and hand size. He also scored in the 74th percentile in the 40-yard dash. Like Everson Griffen, the Saints’ pass rusher can overpower tackles or he can beat them around the corner. At the top of his list of skills might be instincts. Jordan sniffs out screen passes, blows up run plays and has a great understanding of how opponents will attack him.
If the Vikings use Remmers at right tackle, he’ll have a chance against Jordan because of his size and power. In Week 1, Remmers gave up one sack to Jordan, but largely kept him away from Sam Bradford by matching his raw strength. If Hill starts at right tackle, he will have to use a different skill to beat Jordan: His length. Hill has exceptionally long arms that he uses to force edge rushers wide. On the left side, Reiff is the most technically sound of the three and has the toughness and determination to match up with the best defensive ends for four quarters.
Jordan picked up one sack and two tackles in Week 1. Back in 2014, he sacked Teddy Bridgewater in his first career appearance. Last year, he sacked Matthew Stafford once with Riley Reiff playing right tackle.
Keenum’s escapability is always an X-factor for the Vikings. Even if Jordan creates pressure, Keenum has shown that he can still make plays and take a big hit or run outside the pocket. Also the ripple effect of losing Nick Easton at left guard will either cause the Vikings to play a backup at either left guard or right tackle. That may impact the Saints’ ability to get pressure and stop the run. Jordan’s talent for sniffing out screens could be an issue as the Vikings create big plays through behind-the-line passes.