The New Orleans Saints are now only a few days away from opening their 2017 NFL regular season, when they travel to U.S. Bank Stadium to face the Minnesota Vikings on ESPN Monday Night Football.
Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons in 2016, and both teams are also looking to return to the NFL Playoffs this coming year.
For the Saints however, winning this game on Monday Night and getting off to a "good start", could prove vital to their overall success this year.
That means the Saints will need every single player that they can get, to contribute in that effort; but no six Saints players will be more critical or the most important to that possible success, than these 6 gentlemen right here............
#6. MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK
Lattimore is expected to make his first-ever NFL start this Monday Night, and given the likelihood that Minnesota will try to prey upon of the League's newest brand new star at the most difficult position to play as a rookie in the NFL, you had better believe that the former "lock down" All-American rookie CB from Ohio State better be on his toes from the "get-go".
Lattimore in many instances could find himself matched up one-on-one with Vikings #1 WR Stefon Diggs, the Vikings’ third-year receiver who in 2016 played 65.9% of the offense’s total snaps last season, but missed critical time throughout the year with a nagging hamstring injury.
Diggs looks to be fully recovered this season; and despite Lattimore appearing to have the ball skills necessary to play right away as an NFL-caliber "immediate starter" as a 1st year player, you undoubtedly will see the Vikings and QB Sam Bradford along with Diggs, try to take the talented Saints rookie "to school".
#5. MICHAEL THOMAS, WIDE RECEIVER
It shouldn't come as shocker to anyone that the Vkings defense knows that their #1 priority is to successfully defend the Saints top-rated offensive attack, which despite the absence of 3rd year and #2 WR Willie Snead, will have to establish itself early against a tough (last year's #2 overall rated) Minnesota defense in their own home stadium.
But it also becomes obvious that the Saints will put much of the responsibility for compensating Snead's absence on the capable young shoulders of super-talented 2nd year star #1 WR and future All-Pro Michael Thomas, whose expanded role within the confines of the Saints offense, is guaranteed to draw double-coverage from the Vikings secondary in key situations.
Thomas is expected to be matched up one-on-one more than a few times with Vikings All-Pro CB Xavier Rhodes, who more often than not will shadow Thomas in press-man coverage, which the Vikings will be more apt to play to avoid getting "sliced and diced" by Saints QB Drew Brees in their zone coverages. If the Saints are to win this game, they NEED all of their other WR's to "step up" --- but none bigger than Thomas.
#4. A.J. KLEIN, "MIKE"/ MIDDLE (or) "SAM"/ (STRONG SIDE) LINEBACKER
Whether it's at as the "Sam" / strong side linebacker at times in Saints base 4-3 defense, or as the middle linebacker in the various forms of the Saints 4-2-5 "nickel" pass coverages, Klein not only will be responsible for providing coverage against Vikings backs and receivers coming out of the backfield, but will also find himself in some cases matched up one-on-one vs. Vikings All-Pro Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph became a favorite target of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford and finished the year with a whopping 83 receptions for 840 yards and seven touchdowns. And given the notable (bad) reputation that the Saints linebackers in past seasons have had with defending tight ends, you can bet Bradford will look his way Monday Night.
While rookie Alex Anzalone could find himself defending Rudolph in some "nickel" packages of the Saints coverage, you'll see Klein covering him for a majority of the time in "base"; when Klein will more often than not will be responsible for Rudolph's whereabouts --- which makes him one of one of the key Saints defenders of all in this opening night contest.
#3. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
One of if not THE most important position vs. position match-ups in Monday Night's season-opening contest will feature the Saints running attack of RB's Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson against the Vikings linebackers, which includes the All-Pro tandem of Eric Kendricks and Anthony Carr.
While Carr is more prone to attack the QB and rush off the outside edge, it's Kendricks who likely will do most of the cleaning-up on the inside against the Saints "power" running game against Ingram and Peterson. And it also means that on passing downs, Vikings rookie linebacker Ben Gedeon (making his first-ever NFL start) will draw coverage against Saints dynamic rookie star RB Alvin Kamara.
While Gedeon has been impressive enough for the Vikings to earn his way alongside Carr and Kendricks within Minnesota's LB corps, he will be forced to stay with the speedy Kamara coming out of the backfield in passing situations --- a match-up you had best believe that the Saints, Brees, and head coach Sean Payton will look to exploit all night long.
#2. RYAN RAMCZYK, LEFT TACKLE
It's not any great secret that the Vikings realize the biggest key for them to win this game is "getting heat" on Saints QB Drew Brees; in order to prevent getting carved up by the Saints #2 overall NFL-rated passing attack.
That means the Vikings defensive Front 7, and specifically their D-Line which helped tally the 5th most sacks in the NFL in 2016; will bring the heat on Brees hot and heavy with a variety of blitz packages in order to disrupt Brees' timing, rhythm, and most importantly --- his accuracy.
It then also makes rookie left tackle Ryan Ramczyk probably THE most important player in this game on the Saints offense other than Brees himself, since he has the responsibility for protecting Brees' "blind side" in this contest in the place of injured starter Terron Armstead.
Ramczyk will become the first rookie to play left tackle for the Saints in this contest since former #1 pick and University of Virginia All-American Jim Dombrowski in 1986; and with Vikings DE's Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter coming right at him from within Vikings head coach / defensive "guru" Mike Zimmer's variety of different pressure packages, Ramczyk will have his work cut out for him in his first night on the job.
#1 CAM JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END
You shouldn't have expected to see anyone else at #1 on this list more so than Jordan, who is by far and away the most important Saints player on the field with the exception of Brees himself. Jordan has the capability to potentially DOMINATE the line of scrimmage at times throughout this game, against a Vikings O-Line that will be playing 5 brand new starters together as a unit, for the first time ever.
And while most of the Vikings new "starting 5" are NFL veterans of many years, it's still their first time together as a part of a unit that struggled mightily to protect QB Sam Bradford at times last season. Bradford had a decent season last year numbers-wise, but he can be easily rattled at times and had issues with getting the Vikings passing offense in gear late last year thanks in part to a severe lack of time whenever he dropped back in the pocket.
As the Saints top pass rusher, Jordan should likely be matched up over on the left side at the LDE position against Vikings right tackle Mike Remmers, who most observers feel thus far has been the least effective pass protector of either of the two brand new starting tackles the Vikings picked up in 2017 NFL Free-Agency.
Jordan can beat most NFL right tackles with either finesse or with sheer BRUTE STRENGTH --- and given Remmers' past notable struggles against both, it means the Saints can "let Jordan eat" in one of the most favorable one-on-one match-ups he will have all year........