We’re at the point in the season where teams are tested by injuries. They spend months trying to find the right guys to fill out a roster - not just the big names in the starting lineup, but the players behind them on the depth chart.
For the New Orleans Saints, that means life without defensive end Alex Okafor, who’s played like a top-15 lineman on a bargain contract. We don’t know yet if it also means life without several talented additions in All-Pro-to-be cornerback Marshon Lattimore, ironman linebacker A.J. Klein, or playmaking defensive back Kenny Vaccaro.
We’ll know more about their status on Wednesday’s injury report, but Lattimore’s loss caused the defense to crash to earth against Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins more than any other. In Lattimore’s absence, passes to his side of the field yielded a passer rating nearly-double what the rookie has allowed all year.
But the Los Angeles Rams have been hit with a loss that’s just as big. Wide receiver Robert Woods signed a five-year, $34-million contract with the Rams back in March and has been the team’s best pass-catcher. He leads the resurgent Rams in catches (47) and yards (703) to form the spearhead in head coach Sean McVay’s vertical offense.
Only running back Todd Gurley has a better catch rate (73.1-percent) than Woods (67.1-percent), and Woods’ average yards-per-game (70.3) sets the pace for the rest of the team by a wide margin (next-best is slot receiver Cooper Kupp at 48.1).
That’s all come to a pause with Woods’ shoulder injury during a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. McVay downplayed the void Woods leaves behind, but admitted it will be difficult to get other receivers to keep up with Saints coach Sean Payton’s high-octane offense. It will fall to less-dependable weapons like Tavon Austin (who played just two snaps against the Vikings last week) and Sammy Watkins (who hasn’t broken the 70-yards receiving mark since Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers) to step up.
The Saints have faced the third-toughest strength of schedule of all winning teams this year but have been fortunate to catch opponents at the right times. Hopefully that continues during this week’s pivotal conference game carrying playoff implications.