The Vikings’ Eric Kendricks spent the regular season disrupting great offensive teams. The third-year linebacker recorded 113 tackles — 33 more than the team’s No. 2 tackler, safety Andrew Sendejo — good for the 15th-highest mark in the NFL.
But he knows the Vikings are in for a great challenge Sunday when the New Orleans Saints, with the league’s No. 2 offense (391.2 yards per game), come to U.S. Bank Stadium for an NFC divisional playoff game. The last time the Vikings faced an offense with this kind of talent was in Week 11, when they beat the Rams 24-7.
The Saints’ rushing game averaged 129.4 yards per game this season, the fifth-highest total in the league.
Kendricks was asked about stopping Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
“Screen game, run game, they’re both exceptional,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of yards apiece. But it’s about minimizing that. A great quarterback [in Drew Brees]. We have a challenge ahead of us. We have to study.
“Coming out of the backfield you can hand off, you have a quarterback that can go downfield and keeps his eyes downfield, stays in the pocket. It’s a challenge. That’s why they’re in the position they’re in.”
Kendricks was asked if he has to try and calm himself to get ready for such a big game.
“I always get excited for the games,” he said. “I’m going to get juiced for this one. I always do. It’s how I am, personally. But you just treat it like every other game, I feel like. It’s high stakes, but at the same time you have to trust your preparation, trust what got you in the situation you’re in, and fall back on that.”
When it comes to the playoff history between the Saints and Vikings, including New Orleans’ 31-28 overtime victory in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Kendricks said he could care less.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I’m just playing to win, straight up.”
Remmers on Saints
There might not be a player on the Vikings roster with a better understanding of the Saints than offensive lineman Mike Remmers, who played three seasons in Carolina (2014-16) and faced New Orleans twice a year. He was with the Panthers when they reached Super Bowl 50 two years ago before losing 24-10 to the Broncos.
When asked about the Saints defense, Remmers said they have a number of dynamic players.
“They have a really good defense, and being at Carolina, I have a lot of experience with playing them in the NFC South,” the fifth-year pro said. “But they have changed a lot from when we played them in Week 1 [a 29-19 Vikings victory] to now. But overall they have Cameron Jordan, who is a great edge rusher. Up the middle, they are a physical bunch. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but very thankful to be at home playing.”
Remmers said the team has to be ready for a higher level of football Sunday.
“I mean, just a regular-season NFL football game is an extremely fast-paced game, very physical,” he said, “but when you get to the playoffs, each round, it gets even more fast-paced and physical. You just have to be ready for anything. I think we have done a great job of putting ourselves in this situation.”
Third down key
If you’re looking for a key area in Sunday’s game, pay close attention to the Saints offense on third down.
The Saints have converted 73 of 194 third downs, just 19th in the NFL. In New Orleans’ 31-26 victory over Carolina in the wild-card playoff game Sunday, they converted only two of eight attempts.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have been impressive in holding opponents to converting 25.2 percent of their third downs this season, the best mark in the NFL since 1991.
“They can get pressure with four [linemen rushing],” Saints coach Sean Peyton said Thursday. “I think just the [quick start] on your edges — when you’re playing in loud environments on the road, just that half a tick — that’s going to be real important.”
Guard Jimmy Butler and center Karl-Anthony Towns continue to be two of the best all-around players in the NBA, and they showed it again Wednesday in the Wolves’ 104-88 victory over Oklahoma City.
Butler finished with 26 points on 13 shots and went 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. He added eight assists, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks — a stat line not seen by a Wolves player since Kevin Garnett in 2002.
Towns, meanwhile, recorded his NBA-leading 35th double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He’s also been remarkable in three-point shooting, making 58.3 percent from beyond the arc over the past four games.
And consider this: The Wolves, at 27-16, already have more victories than they did in every season from 2007-08 to 2011-12 and again in 2014-15.
Decker’s clutch catch
Former Gophers wideout Eric Decker will go into New England on Saturday with a chance to help the Titans to another upset victory. Decker had a few dropped balls in the Titans’ 22-21 victory over the Chiefs last Saturday, but caught the game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass with 6:06 remaining.
“He’s a competitor and he never wants to make a mistake,” Titans center Ben Jones said. “When it came down to the end, you knew he was going to make a play for us.”
Decker said he has been frustrated lately with how many passes he’s dropped.
“I just have to trust my hands,” he said. “The next opportunity, you have to erase whatever happened in the past.”
• Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shumur was asked about how quarterbacks Brees and Case Keenum were able to finish at No. 1 and No. 2 in completion percentage this season. “They know how important a completion is,” Shurmur said. “It’s important for your offense. A short completion sometimes can turn into a long gain. Their appreciation for that shows up, and it’s similar.”
• Special teams coordinator Mike Preifer talked about how interested the Vikings were in Kamara, the Saints’ great rookie back from Tennessee who went in the third round (No. 67 overall). “He seemed like a great kid,” Preifer said. “… He’s hardworking. I think the more he becomes involved with their offense, he becomes a better football player. That’s what makes him such a big threat.”
• Gophers junior forward Jordan Murphy was named to the midseason Top 25 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the nation’s top college basketball player. Murphy is third in the Big Ten in scoring at 18.3 points per game and first in rebounding at 12.1 per game.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org