Saints shorten the field on offense to earn revenge against Vikings

The plan against Drew Brees is to put pressure on him, to keep him from beating you downfield with his talented cast of pass-catchers.

But against a team which traditionally creates consistent pressure, Brees and the Saints were content to get his yards a little at a time.

Brees led the Saints to a 30-20 win over the Vikings by throwing underneath and moving the ball among his running backs and other short targets.

He completed 18-of-23 passes for 120 yards, the 5.2-yards per attempt average which wouldn’t ordinarily scare you. But when you connect on 78.3 percent of them, it gives you a chance.

Coupled with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combining for 26 carries for 108 yards, it wasn’t the Saints’ typical game-plan by any stretch.

But their defense has gotten better, and turned a pair of Vikings turnovers into touchdowns, and Brees was able to play keep-away with the lead.

That moves them to 6-1 heading into next week’s game against the Rams, which will require more of an offensive output.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Not everything that happened to Kirk Cousins was Kirk Cousins’ fault.

But when you pay a quarterback the way the Vikings paid Cousins, it creates a different expectation in games like this one.

Cousins had a few passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, and went cold for a long stretch in the middle of the game to keep his side from having a chance.

There were some stat-padding throws late, but his 359 passing yards were deceiving.

Playing without left tackle Riley Reiff and left guard Tom Compton didn’t help, as the Vikings weren’t able to give Cousins the clean pockets which he needs.

2. Speaking of pressure, the Saints got the kind they needed from rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport.

Davenport had two sacks, doubling his total for the season.

He’s still very much a work in progress, but the Saints can’t afford for him to not get that kind of production. They gave up next year’s first-rounder to move up to get him this year, and they’ve also given up their third- and fourth-rounders in other deals.

Davenport has plenty of potential, and is part of a defense that has gradually become something other than the anchor that drags Brees and their offense down. In fact, they’re approaching good, with a few legitimate stars (Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore) and a growing base of players who are at least solid.

3. The Saints knew they needed to upgrade their secondary before they traded for cornerback Eli Apple.

But it looked like they were going to give poor P.J. Williams a complex in the process.

Few teams bother throwing in the direction of Lattimore anyway (other than the Vikings on a fourth down — bad idea), but now that Apple is there, it makes Williams a bit of a target. Cousins was looking his way from the start, and he’s going to be picked on by more opponents.

The Saints deactivated cornerback Ken Crawley, and their secondary seems like far from a settled product. But it’s clear that Apple’s considered enough of an upgrade to make a difference.

Williams was fortunate that Stefon Diggs broke off his route when he did, leading to an easy interception for a touchdown, but he’s likely to get far more attention from opponents in the future.

4. Part of the reason Brees can be so efficient is because he’s so protected.

Left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk are a very good pair of bookends, and largely did a good job.

Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter entered the week tied for the league sack league with 8.0, and left the game with the same number.

Coupled with guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford, and center Max Unger, the Saints have put together the kind of line you need if you’re going to roll with a 39-year-old quarterback.

5. Saints quarterback-by-name-only Taysom Hill‘s going to play a huge role in this offense moving forward, and that’s even if he never starts a game at his regular position.

Saints coach Sean Payton clearly loves the matchup problems he can create with the speedy quarterback, and uses him in a myriad of ways.

Hill threw a 44-yard strike to Michael Thomas early in the game, and also ran the ball, and caught it.

The early snap with he was taking the snap and Brees and Teddy Bridgewater were split wide was just showing off, but it’s the kind of thing Payton can present now to complicate future opponents’ game-planning. It’s probably more useful as a distraction than for its own strategic merit, as it’s hard to see them ever putting either of the other two quarterbacks into actual pass patterns (though they have to be more of a threat than Joe Flacco).