We continue our series of articles previewing the Saints regular season opponents, now in Week 12.
Week 12: vs the Los Angeles Rams
Notable free agent additions:
CB Coty Sensabaugh, DE Quinton Coples, DT Dominique Easley, DT Cam Thomas, the city of Los Angeles
The Rams went relatively light in free agency this year stocking up depth at cornerback and on the defensive line. The roster is flush with young talent in recent years, so free agency wasn't a legitimate target to upgrade the starting block in 2016. The real question is how the new DL trio shakes out through training camp and the preseason.
The biggest addition? The city of Los Angeles. With more than 13,000,000 people in the metropolitan area, LA is poised for a big 2016. We haven't seen NFL football in LA for 20 years, so it's definitely 2016 is definitely setting up for a breakout year.
Notable free agent departures:
CB Janoris Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod, DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis, TE Jared Cook, DT Nick Fairley, the city of St. Louis
The Rams have reached the second period of the Jeff Fisher era. They're now having to account for careers that started with the Rams under Jeff Fisher and are now headed elsewhere in guys like Jenkins (now with the Giants), McLeod (now with the Eagles) and Cook (now with the Packers). Additionally, the defensive shed two of its most notable leaders on and off the field in Long and Lauirinaitis, now with the Patriots and Saints respectively, who are coming off of their NFL peaks despite nothing to show from it for their time with the Rams in the win column or playoff section of their professional resumes. It's a large wave of attrition for Rams Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams to adjust to.
Most importantly, the Rams cut St. Louis early in free agency. With a horrendous football sandwich containing a slice of Greatest Show On Turf, the Rams' time in the Gateway City ended, well, not amicably. The Rams' last winning season was in 2003. Playoffs haven't included the Rams in more than a decade. Somehow, there were humans surprised that attendance was related to those facts. Gone is the despair of a fan base exhausted by failure and uninterested in the comic stylings of Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Time to see how long the luster of New NFL Football shines in Los Angeles before mediocrity wipes it off...
Draft trade for #1 overall pick in 2016 NFL Draft
It ain't an NFL Draft if Rams General Manager Les Snead ain't shoppin.
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
QB Jared Goff (1.1), TE Tyler Higbee (4.110), WRs Pharoh Cooper (4.117) & Mike Thomas (6.206)
Obviously, #1 overall pick QB Jared Goff factors into the Rams' immediate plans. The question is when he takes over the starting gig since QB Case Keenum remains the starter.
The Rams haven't gotten much out of the tight end position in years despite investing heavily in Jared Cook in free agency in 2013. Of the two tight ends the Rams drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, Higbee is the likelier candidate to show up early.
And the Rams' WR depth chart is a mess of could-bes, won't-bes and what-are-theses. So while most teams might not factor in both of a fourth-round and a sixth-round wide receiver pairing, the Rams aren't most teams.
Biggest offseason addition:
Goff, Los Angeles
New city. New franchise QB. New life for old excuses.
Catch the excitement!
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
With the Rams featuring on HBO's Hard Knocks this season, the central theme of the 2016 Los Angeles Rams is one of rebirth.
The St. Louis era is over. The Sam Bradford era, and it's sloppy Nick Foles epilogue, is over. Jeff Fisher...well, Jeff Fisher is less of a head coach or human and more of a concept. You can't fire a concept.
In any case, the sell here is that the Rams are a new, unknown quantity. Jared Goff is here to rescue 2015's worst offense in yards. Todd Gurley's knee is now even further from the ACL injury it incurred at Georgia in November 2014. And the defense, despite losing key members at every level, still has Aaron Donald.
The Rams have been running on potential for four years. That tank had run empty in St. Louis. Now they have a largely newborn audience in Los Angeles who are largely unaware of the Rams' recent failures and willing to overlook them for the promise the future offers.
The question is if fortune finally shines on this young Rams team or, if it doesn't, how LA will respond to its first homegrown taste of Fisherball.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
For years, the Rams have leaned on their defense to patch over one of the NFL's worst offenses. At times, the praise was as hyperbolic as was possible.The quality of the defense never measured up to that level of preseason glorification.
What's worrisome now is that the defense now loses a key member at every level (DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis, CB Janoris Jenkins and FS Rodney McLeod) without any obvious talent injection to replace any of them.
Now the Rams' defense will be forced to answer questions it hadn't been asked in recent years, this while trying to retool the worst offense in the NFL in 2015 in yards gained quarterbacked by a rookie.
If the defense regresses as a whole in 2016, the outlook for success becomes even less likely...and the expected excuses that will come from Rams Head Coach Jeff fisher will land with even less legitimacy.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
The Rams lost DT Louis Trinca-Pasat to knee injuries in OTAs, but he was a fringe roster contributor at best.
The real concern centers on those Rams returning from serious injuries: DE Robert Quinn, S T.J. McDonald, OLB Alec Ogletree and CB E.J. Gaines. Quinn and McDonald both had surgery to end their 2015 seasons, Ogletree never made it back on the field in 2015 after an early ankle injury, and Gaines missed all of 2015 with an offseason Lisfranc foot injury.
All four will be expected to be major contributors as starters, with a big question mark for Gaines who shone in his 2014 rookie season.
The newly-moved Rams, formerly of St. Louis and now hailing from the City of Angels, come to visit the Saints presenting James Laurinaitis with the first opportunity to face his former team.
So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Will Laurinaitis & Co. be able to stop the Rams offense, or will the Saints eat a loss at the Dome?