The New Orleans Saints won their eighth consecutive game last week, with a heart-stopping overtime comeback over the Washington Redskins. Next up for the NFC South leaders is a showdown on the west coast against the 7-3 NFC West leading Los Angeles Rams.
New Orleans comes into the game with the league's top ranked offense, but let's have a look at how they stack up against the Rams' 6th ranked defense.
Saints pass offense vs. Rams pass defense
The Saints passing attack ranks 2nd in the NFL, producing nearly 272 yards per game, and Drew Brees is coming off of his highest yardage output of the season last week, throwing for 385 yards in the comeback over Washington. First year right tackle Ryan Ramczyk struggled a bit in pass protection, perhaps his worst showing of a fine rookie season. Brees has always spread the ball around to his targets as good as any quarterback that has ever played, but the effectiveness of the Saints passing game usually starts with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
The second year Thomas has established himself as a star, and leads New Orleans with 65 receptions for 753 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is nearly unstoppable on short and mid-range routes, and has a catch radius next to impossible to defend against. The Saints love to get the ball to their rookie of the year candidate Kamara in space, and his 49 catches for 447 yards and 3 scores are among the league leaders for running backs. Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. has been more consistent than many expected this season, and has been a solid option for Brees with 35 receptions, 570 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The New Orleans tight ends came alive last week against the Redskins at a perfect time. Coby Fleener erupted for 5 catches and 91 yards, all on the final 2 drives of regulation, and Josh Hill added a 4th quarter touchdown to bring the Saints within a score. Wideout Brandon Coleman seems to make at least one big play per week, and is a trusted Brees target, while running back Mark Ingram remains effective in the team's screen attack.
The Los Angeles defense has been giving up around 212 yards through the air, and rank 10th in the league against the pass. Coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the NFL at bringing pressure on a quarterback, and Los Angeles has sacked signal callers 28 times. Their strength starts up front, where they have four former No. 1 draft choices along their front seven. One of the most disruptive defensive lineman league is Aaron Donald, leads the team with 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Beside him in the middle is Michael Brockers, who provides a huge push in the middle against offensive linemen, while edge rusher Robert Quinn is a former All-Pro that still brings heavy pressure from the outside. The Rams have quality depth within their front 7 as well, as evidenced by 8.5 combined sacks from Matt Longacre, Morgan Fox, and Ethan Westbrooks. Veteran outside linebacker Connor Barwin is still an effective blitzer (4 sacks), and provides solid short range coverage in the passing game.
Two more former 1st round picks, linebacker Alec Ogletree and linebacker/safety hybrid Mark Barron lead the Rams in tackles, and are forces against the run, as blitzers, and formidable challenges in pass coverage. Saints running back Alvin Kamara has been an athletic mismatch to cover against nearly every opponent New Orleans has faced this season, but will face a much stiffer test against this talented Rams duo.
Los Angeles is led on the back end by cornerback Trumaine Johnson, considered one of the better corners in the league. Johnson leads the team in pass break ups and has 2 interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. The team's other two primary cornerbacks, Kayvon Webster (concussion), and Nickell Robey-Coleman (thigh) are both questionable to play this Sunday, and each has been a bit inconsistent opposite Johnson. Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner has 2 interceptions and a touchdown return, and leads a group of young players that have struggled at times in preventing the big play.
Saints run offense vs. Rams run defense
Mark Ingram is the 4th leading rusher in the league, pacing a 3rd ranked New Orleans running attack that averages 144 yards per game. Ingram has run for 806 yards, averaging 5.2 per carry and has scored 8 rushing touchdowns. He has rushed for over 100 yards in four games, and averaged a whopping 12 yards per carry on 134 yards against the Redskins last week.
Kamara has shown the ability to be an every down back on most teams, rushing for 459 yards and 4 scores while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He has been the perfect compliment to Ingram, with both having the skill to provide a knockout punch to a defense. The New Orleans offensive line continues to blow defenders off of the line of scrimmage, and gets to the second level of the defense quickly, creating additional open space down the field for it's running backs.
The Rams have allowed just one back to rush for over 100 yards this season, Leonard Fournette in a week six victory over Jacksonville, but rank 28th at stopping the run, surrendering 123 yards per game. Los Angeles has given up over 165 yards in a game four times this season, and seems to struggle with overpursuit against strong cutback runners. Ogletree and Barron are outstanding run defenders, but the defensive linemen in front of them must keep blockers occupied for them to utilize their athleticism.
What to Look For
Pass Protection: The Saints offensive line against the Rams front seven is undoubtedly the biggest key to the game on either side of the ball. New Orleans struggled at times against the Redskins pass rush, at least more than they have in any game since the opening loss against Minnesota. Kamara could be challenged more from Ogletree and Barron than he has from most opponents this season. There's no reason to believe that the Saints won't be able to establish their running game, and expect New Orleans to take some deep looks off play action passes.
The Saints offense had their way with the Los Angeles defense when they met a year ago, a 49-21 New Orleans win. Drew Brees threw for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns, Michael Thomas had two of those scores, along with 9 catches for 108 yards, and Mark Ingram rushed for 146 yards with a score on the ground and another receiving. Will they be able to duplicate that success?
Canal Street Chronicles would like to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Where will the Saints offense face their biggest challenge against Los Angeles?
This poll is closed
Saints O-line vs Rams front seven
Saints receivers vs Rams defensive backs
Kamara/Ingram vs Ogletree/Barron
Drew Brees/Sean Payton vs Wade Phillips