Drew Brees was not at his best. Adam Bettcher/Getty Images
The rematch from the Minnesota Miracle in last year’s NFC playoffs took place Sunday night. The Saints came out victorious with a 30-20 victory. Let’s jump right into how I saw this win shake out:
-Taysom Hill normally comes in the game to run read option plays only. When Sean Payton called a play action pass, Hill found Michael Thomas for a 44 yard catch deep middle that led to the team’s first touchdown. Payton continues to make good use of Hill.
-The defense held the Vikings to only 85 yards rushing. Normally, it’s their pass defense that’s an Achilles heel (more on them later), but the run defense can be just as bad. Some of that can be attributed to…
-…Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport starting to pay dividends. Both are former first rounders, Rankins in 2016 and Davenport in 2018, who have lofty expectations to live up to (especially Davenport since they gave up next year’s first rounder to move up to get him. They both provided key sacks (Rankins with two, Davenport with one) tonight. They were both also key in stopping the run.
-Drew Brees threw his first interception of the season in the second quarter. Vikings showed A-gap blitz (between center and guard) and a defensive end came free to pressure him. His pass to Michael Thomas was high and Harrison Smith beat Thomas for the jump ball. Being down 13-10 on the road in prime time to a conference rival mid-season isn’t time to throw your first pick.
-Brees only threw for 120 yards. Normally this is a recipe for disaster, but the defense actually helped them win. Moving forward, he’ll need to have more of an impact if they expect to live up to lofty expectations.
- Saints kicker Will Lutz had to bail out his team twice. Alvin Kamara dropped a for sure first down catch on third and three from the Vikings’ 34, but Lutz hit from 52 yards out. Drew Brees committed an intentional grounding penalty on third and goal from the 10 yard line, but the penalty pushed it back to the 24. Lutz came through with a 42-yarder. Trading field goals for touchdowns won’t win playoff games.
- P.J. Williams was picked on early and often. With Ken Crawley out, Williams had to start. In the first quarter, Stefon Diggs burned him for a big gain and then a touchdown on fourth down on the Vikings’ first possession. His pass interference in the end zone in second quarter led to the Vikings second touchdown.
-Penalties were again a factor. The Saints posted seven for 64 yards this game, with most of those coming on pass interference calls from guys who shouldn’t be playing a significant role as previously stated.
-3.7 yards per carry on 29 rushes for a total of 106 yards is another number that reveals how fortunate the Saints were to win. When this team wins and dominates, so does the run game. Couple this with a subpar yardage performance from Brees, and this was another loss waiting to happen.
The Saints are now 6-1, in lead of the NFC South division, and on course to face the Rams for NFC supremacy next week. They’ve pasted this test and will move on to the next test on their difficult schedule. To consider yourself a true contender in the NFL, you must be able to blow teams out, as well as win ugly. This team has proven to do both. They’ve “exorcized the demon” of the Vikings… for now. Next up is the bully on the NFC block. They win next week, they’ll be the new favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.