Saints 31, Bucs 24

Saints vs Bucs 1: Good, bad & ugly

Saints vs Bucs 1: Good, bad & ugly
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In a game that was a lot closer than Saints fans would've liked, the Saints improved to 4-1 with a 31-24 win over the division rival Tampa Bay Bucs. Here's take a look at my observations:

The Good

-Theodore Edmond Bridgewater had his breakout/reemerging performance since coming back from a gruesome leg injury that could've ended his career just over three years ago. 26/34 for 314 yards and four touchdowns was his first game with 300 yards passing while completing 70% or more of his passes since October 25, 2015. That was his Pro Bowl year with the Vikings.

-One guy that truly helped Bridgewater have the type of performance he did was All Pro receiver Michael Thomas. He tallied 11 catches on 13 targets for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas hadn't scored a touchdown since the Seahawks win (that was his first of the season) and this was his first 100+ yard receiving game since the first game of the season. With this game, Thomas got back to his All-Pro self.

-The defense played lights out. The two guys that stuck out in my eyes were their last two first round draft picks: Marson Lattimore (#11 pick in 2017 draft) and Marcus Davenport (#14 pick in 2018 draft). Lattimore held Bucs' All Pro reciever Mike Evans to zero catches on three targets as he shadowed him all game long. Davenport had two of the six sacks on Jameis Winston. There were other defenders that had good performances, but these two guys will be building blocks for this defense's future.

The Bad

-The Saints won the rushing yardage differential by a +18 margin. However, a 3.6 yards per carry average isn't going to cut it. Under normal circumstances, a 3.6 average means three yards and a cloud of dust is producing first downs. Playing with a backup quarterback, you need better and more consistent production from the run game.

-Bridgewater's lone mistake was an interception late in the first quarter. It set the Bucs up on the Saints' 26 yard line and only took them two plays to cash in on the mistake for a go-ahead touchdown to put them up 7-3. This could've been a turning point in Tampa's favor.

-21 of Bridegwater's 28 completions went to three guys: Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook. At their respective positions, they're the best the Saints have to offer. But if three guys are going to be the focus of your offense, all it takes is some decent talent and a good coach to force a team into situations where their pass game is rendered ineffective.

The Ugly

-Bucs' corner Carlton Davis was ejected in the second quarter for targeting after a helmet to helmet hit on Cook. It was clearly targeting and Davis would have to be a complete idiot to appeal any fine or suspension that comes about. Slow motion presents the hit in a different light, but it should have been obvious to Davis that he was wrong. Had he lowered his shoulder more and hit Cook in the chest when he turned around, he would've still separated Cook from the ball and stayed in the game. This is one instance in which I'll say the defender could've done something different and should have.

-Passing 36 times and running 31 times isn't a winning formula, especially when Drew Brees is out. The 112 yards rushing with that 3.6 yards per carry average exasperated that play call disparity. While some analytics nowadays would suggest passing more leads to better efficiency, the eye test says the more ball control a team has, the more success they'll have. Despite this, the Saints still had a seven minute time off possession average.

-Wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith injured an ankle and left the game late in the fourth quarter. No word yet on if it's the same ankle injury that caused Smith to miss the previous two weeks or not. This will hurt an already thin depth chart at receiver for the Saints and could be an ongoing issue all season.

This win moved the Saints to 4-1, but also 3-0 while Bridewater has started during Brees' injury. It also puts them firmly in the conversation for one of the best teams in the league. When you put yourself in that conversation and your future Hall of Fame quarterback is still out, that says a lot about the other guys on that team. There's a matchup in a couple weeks with the Bears that will truly test this team. They can't look past anybody because this is the NFL. Next week is a visit to Jacksonville where a battle of the backups will take place. Will Minshew-Mania reign supreme, or does Bridgewater continue his audition for the permanent job as Brees' heir-apparent?

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Help is on the way.But not right away. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are officially back on track, climbing two games over .500 after beating the Blue Jays in the series opener on Monday. It's been impressive to see the team go on a run with several key players out of the mix due to injury.

And by the looks of how things currently stand, it doesn't appear any reinforcements will be arriving before the All-Star break. Astros manager Joe Espada told the flagship station on Tuesday that the club is going to be cautious with Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander.

Tucker is expected to start running soon, and Verlander is already soft tossing from sixty feet. But based on Espada's comments, we shouldn't expect Tucker and JV back before the break. They're hoping that when they do return, they'll be fully ready to play the rest of the season without any “hiccups.”

With Tucker out for likely another two weeks, we should get to see more from Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick, Trey Cabbage, and Joey Loperfido. All of which have had some big moments in recent days.

Espada also said Luis Garcia is scheduled to make a two inning start on Thursday with the Double A club. Lance McCullers could also be ready to return in early August (fingers crossed).

Fortunately for the Astros, Shawn Dubin pitched well in his spot start in New York. Espada told the flagship that Dubin has a good shot at making another start, depending on the state of the bullpen heading into the Twins game on Friday.

It was once believed Houston would have to look outside the organization for pitching help, and they still might. But don't expect a move to happen anytime soon. The Astros depth is holding up, so other teams don't hold all the leverage on GM Dana Brown if he's interested in making a deal.

Speaking of which, the Astros have been rumored to have interest in Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

And while we know Jim Crane loves to make a splash, it's hard to believe he would agree to exceeding the second tax threshold to secure the Blue Jays slugger.

Between Mauricio Dubon, Jon Singleton, and Joey Loperfido, first base doesn't feel like a priority. In the end, the Astros may view a trade as unnecessary with the returns of Verlander, Tucker, Garcia, Jake Bloss, and McCullers. Which could mean a very quiet trade deadline for Houston.

Considering the lack of depth in the farm system, this could be very beneficial in the big picture.

Finally, when looking at the schedule leading up to the All Star break, there are some great opportunities for the 'Stros. They can gain ground on the Twins in the Wild Card race, and push the Rangers further down the standings in the final series before the break.

And let's not forget the series with the division-leading Mariners coming out of the break.

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and Charlie Pallilo discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And be on the lookout for bonus episodes on Thursdays!

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