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How the Vikings upset the Saints, and what they need against the 49ers

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Kirk Cousins finally did it. He led the Vikings en route to a win over the heavily-favoured Saints, in the Superdome, in overtime, with Minnesota advancing 26-20 onto a Divisional Round visit to Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers. Just like two years ago, New Orleans gets knocked out by Minnesota in dramatic fashion.

The game proved just how dangerous the Vikings can be if Dalvin Cook is on the field and available to carry a major part of the workload offensively. Minnesota scored 17 unanswered points after trailing 7-3 in the second quarter. Anthony Harris picked off Drew Brees just before halftime but that didn’t prevent a fourth-quarter game-tying comeback by the home side before Kyle Rudolph caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Defence and the running game have been centrepieces of every dominant playoff club this year, and the Vikings were just that thanks to great execution on Sunday.

In the meantime, it was a special performance for Kirk Cousins. He had always been considered a playmaker that puts up big numbers and not a true winner. Cousins had been 0-1 in postseason starts – not after his heroics in the dramatic win over the Saints which might’ve just changed his reputation in a big way.

However, that wouldn’t have happened without Adam Thielen‘s best game thus far this season. Thielen missed 6 straight games between Weeks 9-15 but returned with a bang in New Orleans. His total of 129 yards through the air was the second-most by him, only to 130 yards in an October visit to the Giants in East Rutherford.

His presence has, and will continue to be, arguably of the biggest importance to this Vikings team. As proven by the past two NFL seasons, he’s an essential part of the offence when it comes to having a balance between deep threats, and perimeter receivers for 3rd and 4th-down conversions. Considering that Cook’s number of carries could near 30 when he’s healthy, Thielen is the perfect opportunistic receiver on this roster and one stat proves that: Thielen has been targeted 8 or more times in four games this year – he has an average of 18+ yards per reception in all but one of these efforts.


And, simply, a larger variety of receiving corps is needed with Richard Sherman, one of the best and most experienced backs in the league, being the next obstacle before the passing game of the Vikings. Thielen, who does wonders in 50/50 situations, just showed that he’s red-hot and the Niners should be well aware of that. Apart from a lost fumble on the opening drive, Thielen had a near-perfect performance.

The running defence was so successful that Taysom Hill ended up as the leading rusher for the Saints. His production of 4 carries for 50 yards, influenced by the fact that he isn’t a running back, is not sustainable. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray had a combined 12 rushes for a total of 42 yards, and the Saints had 96 on the ground.

If that was possibly a sign of things to come, the Vikings might be able to slow down the second-best rushing attack that has been so important for the 49ers offensively all season long. San Francisco finished the regular season with 144 yards per game on the ground, by far a more efficient unit than the Saints’, but based off the same workload distribution strategy. Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Rahim Mostert form the same trio resembling the “Running back-by-committee” tactic that the Saints use but to a lesser extent (which has resulted in Kamara not recording that many yards).

The Vikings were fairly successful in their first challenge against that kind of ground attack, in addition to sacking Brees three times. Their offensive line has a pretty clean game, allowing Cousins to be brought down just twice.

All of those are things the Vikings need to keep up doing well, or else they will fall into mismatches against powerful 49ers running game and an elite pass rush. But all in all, Minnesota neutralized major components that make up the game of one of the most balanced teams in the National Football League.


Just like that, the pressure on Kirk Cousins continues to increase. Now that the narrative that identified him for so many years is dead at last, and he has the best arsenal of weapons and running game he’s ever had, not living up to his full potential would be a disappointment for Vikings fans.

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