One key to the Saints being able to pull out a win somehow tonight at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home to NFC rival Minnesota and one of the toughest stadiums to play at in the entire NFL for visiting teams; will be getting enough pressure on Vikings starting QB Kirk Cousins.
Although New Orleans is an underdog headed into tonight’s crucially important game that will likely have Playoff implications for the remainder of the year, their chances of winning will improve dramatically tonight if they are able to generate enough pressure to make things difficult for the 6th year veteran Cousins.
As some Saints fans are well aware: Cousins seemingly becomes ineffective and prone to making bad decisions (and has problems with ball security / fumbling issues), whenever he gets “rattled”.
That’s something that could definitely work to the Saints’ advantage tonight, given the one-on-one match-up that’s expected to take place between Saints 8th year veteran defensive end Cam Jordan and Vikings rookie offensive right tackle Brian O’Neill.
Jordan of course primarily lines up for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen‘s base 4-3 defensive scheme / alignment at the wide 9-Technique LDE (left defensive end) position, which is on the far left outside of the line of scrimmage.
That would have him lined up directly across from the inexperienced-but-learning O’Neill; and no doubt it could be a huge advantage for the 29-year old All-Pro who has 5 sacks thus far this season in 6 starts; and coming off a season last year in which he sacked opposing QB’s a total of 13 different times.
O’ Neill meanwhile is actually a former tight end and was Minnesota’s 2nd Round pick in this past Spring’s 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh.
The 6-foot-6 tackle is only in his fourth year of playing on the offensive line, after he made the transition from blocking tight end at Pitt ahead of the 2015 season (his sophomore season) to offensive right tackle, where he put on 35 pounds in a six-week span to permanently make the role his very own.
As noted by ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin, O’Neill has since followed a similar plan in Minnesota, consuming around 6,000 calories daily to maintain weight above 300 pounds.
O’Neill originally wasn’t slated to be a starter this season as a rookie; as the team wanted to bring him along slowly as opposed to “throwing him to the wolves” too early, at a position that’s not often conducive to be manned by young and inexperienced players.
It’s why Cronin says that the initial expectation by the Vikings coaching staff was that they felt O’Neill would need time to develop his body and all of the physical tools that are required to play tackle, in the NFL.
But O’Neill (much like Saints 2nd year starting RT Ryan Ramczyk) has gotten up to speed very quickly, thanks in part mostly to the fact that he essentially earned the job in Pre-Season following an injury to former starting Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill.
Additionally, with left guard Nick Easton out for the year and other lingering injuries to fellow O-Linemen Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers, O’Neill didn’t really have much of a choice to begin with.
Since that time, O’Neill has remained entrenched at right tackle; while Hill returned from injury and has now assumed the starting left offensive tackle spot, in place of the injured Riley Reiff.
But by all accounts the 23-year old O’Neill has done a solid if not spectacular job, though it’s also probably safe to say that Jordan will be one of the tougher one-on-one match-ups that he will face all season long.
In 185 pass blocking snaps this year, O’Neill has not allowed a sack and has given up just four QB hits and seven hurries, according to Pro Football Focus data. PFF also rates him as the second best run blocker on the team, second to injured guard Tom Compton (yes Saints fans: this Vikings O-Line is “beat up”).
Nevertheless, facing Jordan is a daunting task for ANY NFL offensive tackle, much less a one who’s a rookie and only about to play what will be his 8th ever NFL game.
In last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff game, Jordan didn’t get any sacks although he did have seven QB “hurries” and one QB “hit”.
So far this season through the Saints’ first 6 games, Jordan not only has the five sacks but also has only had one game in which he’s finished with anything less than four pressures.
And not to be forgotten: Jordan has a very notable reputation for batting down passes — he had 12 last year — which has been an issue at times for Cousins.
It’s the whole reason why when these two teams take the field tonight, that Cam Jordan could get to “eat” (and eat well) against an injury-riddled Vikings O-Line that remains vulnerable and somewhat exposed.
When the ball is kicked off in a few short hours from now at Minneapolis, dinner will hopefully served for Jordan and the Saints defense.
Let’s hope they save some room for dessert…..