Saints vs. Giants: Good, bad and ugly

Drew Brees and the Saints got another tough win. Saints official Twitter account

The Saints continue their “Let’s Make Life Harder Than Necessary” season tour this week with a 33-18 win over the Giants. It was an ugly win in which they made unnecessary errors that could have cost them the game. Here’s how I saw things:

The Good

-If Alvin Kamara is Sean Payton’s favorite toy, Taysom Hill is Payton’s favorite Swiss Army Knife. Hill threw a fake punt pass for a first down, ran over Landon Collins (all-pro safety) for another first down, caught a screen pass (for a loss), returned the opening kickoff 16 yards, and would’ve had a touchdown pass to Kamara if it wasn’t dropped.

- Speaking of Kamara, Payton’s favorite toy had 181 total yards and three touchdowns, including the game sealing 49-yard touchdown run to put the Saints up 33-18 with two minutes left. Many talk of Le’Veon Bell’s gliding running style, but forget to mention Kamara’s effortless style as well.

- The defense finally decided to show up to the party! They held the Giants to 299 yards total, including only 97 in the first half. For a team averaging giving up 403 yards of offense, holding a team 104 yards under that putrid average is a win.

The Bad

-The middle of the field, whether on crossing routes or squatting inside open areas of zone, continues to be open. Several times the Giants took advantage. This has been, and continues to be an ongoing issue defensively, particularly on third and short or medium.

-Michael Thomas didn’t have one of his typical games. Averaging 13 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown every game so far was a bit much to keep up. Only four catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns today. Giants played great defense on the Saints’ biggest threat on the outside.

-Drew Brees didn’t have his A game going today either. He was 18 of 32 for 217 yards and no touchdowns. 56% passing from Brees whose career completion percentage is 67% is not normal. There aren’t many games the Saints have won in which Brees completes less than 60% of his passes.  

The Ugly

-Four of the Saints’ five first half possessions were scoring drives. Good right? Not when they’re deep drives into or start in the red zone and end in field goals. The 12-7 halftime lead should’ve been at least 20-7, if not 28-7. They even had two touchdowns dropped in the red zone on the same possession!

-The Saints started 1 of 8 on third downs. Several of those contributed to their poor red zone offense in the first half. It took them until the fourth quarter to get their second third down conversion. For a team that has been one of the best on third downs over the Brees/Payton era, that was abysmal. 

-Another example of how bad the Saints played was their two minute advantage in time of possession, 31 to 29. With the offense not in the best of rhythms, but the defense humming along just fine (and getting two turnovers), there was no way the Saints should have only gotten a two minute advantage and a win.

This was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. A win on the road against a conference opponent is always a plus. There are several things this team has to fix before playing the Redskins. The good thing is it appears as if the defense is rounding into shape. The offensive woes today can be adjusted. The team will get Mark Ingram back this upcoming week from suspension which will take some of the load off Kamara and add a dimension to the run game. Going 3-1 in the first quarter of the season isn’t bad, but let’s see how the next quarter of the season goes.   

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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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