The New Orleans Saints finally got back on track on Christmas Day against the Minnesota Vikings. After dropping the last two games, one to the Philadelphia Eagles and the other to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Saints needed to put a “W” in the win column. Yet, defeating the Vikings meant so much more than just reaching an 11-4 record, there was a level of vindication involved.
New Orleans had seen its playoff exit two out of the last three seasons at the hands of Minnesota. By beating them on Christmas Day, and subsequently eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs, they seemed to exorcise some kind of football or playoff demons.
Here are our biggest takeaways:
Drew Brees and Payton are trying to prove a point
Drew Brees threw for over 300 yards for the first time since Week 5 against the Los Angeles Chargers. He has also only thrown for over 300 yards three times this season, granted he was injured for five games. Still, it is an interesting trend for a player who has made a name for himself by racking up yards and touchdowns throughout his career, hence most of all the meaningful passing record are in his name.
This is largely due to a shift in philosophy on the offense as Brees has gotten older and forced the need to adapt. The obvious change has been the near disappearance of the deep ball and the increase of plays with incredibly high success percentage. It is what has allowed Brees to now become the most accurate passer in the NFL and he has only gotten better over the course of the last few seasons.
Yet, on Christmas Day head coach Sean Payton was dialing up deep shots for Brees. Nick Underhill has a great film study at his neworleans.football website (subscription required) dissecting many of Brees’s deep throws on the evening. It was nearly impossible not to notice that Brees was uncharacteristically taking shots downfield, but why?
Some believe it is because Payton wants to prove a point, or perhaps Brees himself, but what it really comes down to is the offense proving what they can do. When Brees is under center defenses have become accustomed to short passes, screen passes, dump-offs and checkdowns. It works incredibly well and has made this offense one of the most efficient in the league in recent years. But, what it has done is eliminate a key component of the offense: the deep ball. This has allowed opposing defenses to play the Saints differently, and in a much more shallow fashion. With just one game left in the season, it was important for Brees to take shots down field to prove that the offense can do it and will do it whether they are given the opportunity or create it.
Despite all of this, Brees looked good on some drives and throws, and on others looked like a player still recovering from 11 rib fractures. Regardless, it was good seeing the offense implement an element into their gameplan we have not, with any regularity, seen in a while.
The Saints offensive line is one of their greatest assets
For many New Orleans fans this Christmas Day game seemed to be an almost “dooms day” type of scenario for the team. Both Andrus Peat and Nick Easton were ruled out for the game causing James Hurst to start at left guard. This meant Hurst was tasked with keeping Brees, who is coming off of injury, upright, Not only did the entire line do their jobs, they thrived.
What really stood out was the ability to bully the Vikings defensive line and allow the two-pronged rushing attack of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to go wild for a combined 227 rushing yards. Yes, the Minnesota defensive was depleted, but those were still professional players on the field trying to get paid. For all the Saints fans who have been clamoring for more running plays to be implemented into the gameplan, this was the game for them.
The New Orleans offensive line has proved all season to be one of the best assets even with a few mistakes and hiccups (looking at you Peat and rookie Cesar Ruiz). On Christmas Day that same unit proved that if Payton wants to feed Kamara and Murray and control the clock and time of possession that this line can make that job easier. Just as with the Brees deep shot calls, this seems to have been some experimentation with certain concepts by Payton heading into the playoffs.
This offensive line will only get better as they will hopefully have two of their (potential) starters return soon after injury. After they way they played on Christmas, that is an exciting proposition.
Key playmakers were doing their jobs
This takeaway may seem silly, as in it would seem obvious that this occurs. Yet, for New Orleans this season it seems that only certain playmakers show up for certain games. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is criticized for only playing well against Mike Evans, or tight end Jared Cook not being on the same page as Brees or Ruiz allowing Brees to suffer an injury that could have ended his career.
Yet, on Christmas Day nearly everyone stepped up and did their jobs. Lattimore shut down rookie sensation and LSU-product Justin Jefferson. Cook finally looked like the $15 million man the Saints signed him to be. And Ruiz did an admirable job of protecting Brees and creating lanes for Kamara and Murray.
In addition to those three, nearly every player on the field played up to the level that was expected of them, and many more (looking at you AK) exceeded those expectations, some beyond the wildest of beliefs. With injuries to key players on both sides of the ball, this team will become that much more lethal upon their return. This Christmas Day win was a statement win, and one that was much needed heading into the playoffs.
What are your biggest takeaways? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, Instagram at @SaintsCSC, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. And as always you can follow me on Twitter at @KadeKistner.