The New Orleans Saints offensive line will look significantly different on Sunday than it did in the Week 1 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
In the first game, Terron Armstead didn’t play, so rookie first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk started at left tackle in what was his NFL debut. This time, Armstead will play left tackle and Ramczyk will play at right tackle with a lot more experience.
Veteran Zach Strief started at right tackle in Week 1, and when he suffered a knee injury, Senio Kelemete replaced him. Kelemete will start Sunday at left guard because Andrus Peat (fibula) is on injured reserve, like Strief.
The two players who will be at the same positions this weekend are center Max Unger and right guard Larry Warford.
But, all the lineup jumbling doesn’t change anything about the task the offensive line has. For the Saints offense to live up to its potential, the linemen need to block well against Vikings front four that is among the best in the NFL.
“They present speed and power,” Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said of the Vikings defensive line, “and it’s really the whole front seven does that does a great job executing pressure on the quarterback — and they’re stout against the run.”
The Vikings, who had the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2017, boast a stellar defensive end tandem with Everson Griffen and former LSU star Danielle Hunter. Griffen had 13 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in the regular season. Hunter had seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
In the first matchup, Ramczyk primarily faced Griffen, who had one sack in that game. This time, Ramczyk will most see Hunter, but after a full season, the Saints’ right tackle enters this game with a lot more confidence.
“There were definitely a lot of jitters going on there, but I’m definitely more comfortable,” Ramczyk said.
Saints coaches have seen Ramczyk progress throughout the season, too.
“He’s settled in (at right tackle) and is playing extremely good football right now,” Sean Payton said.
On the interior, the Vikings have Linval Joseph, who had 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, and former Saints defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who had two sacks and five tackles for loss.
Basically, the Vikings defensive line presents a challenge at every position, which Warford knew before this year after spending four seasons in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions.
“They’ve always been up there with the best of ’em, so we’re going to have our work cut out,” Warford said. “But I think this offensive line, if we prepare the way we prepare, we’ll be fine.”
The Saints offensive line has been stellar this season in spite of all the lineup changes. New Orleans allowed just 20 sacks this season, which were the second fewest in the NFL. The Saints also had the fifth-ranked rushing offense and the second-highest average yards per carry.
Any time a team is as productive as the Saints offense was this season, the offensive line deserves a…