The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams are both coming off big wins to get their squads back to .500 heading into the home stretch of the season. On Thursday, the two teams will square off in a game with a lot of playoff implications.
Evan Craig joins us this week to preview the matchup in this week's interview with the enemy.
LH: The Rams offense has been on fire recently with some big games in their last four contests. What have you seen from the offense that separates them from what they were earlier this year?
EC: Early in the season, the offense lacked an identity which led to some painful losses. Some games, the offense had a tendency to be to pass happy and allergic to the run game. Kyren Williams would not get enough carries at all. Matthew Stafford struggled early on too because much of the offense was being shouldered on him. Carrying the load of an offense filled with young playmakers was a recipe for disaster which forced Stafford to play superhero, leading to some bad turnovers by the veteran signal caller.
In the last four games, we’ve seen Sean McVay evolve into a more balanced play caller and the offense is reaping the benefits. Stafford has multiple touchdown passes in that span while Kyren Williams is playing at a Pro Bowl level. McVay is relying on the running game which has enabled Stafford to play freer as he doesn’t have to shoulder the burden. It’s simply great to see him have a balanced and reliable ground game at his disposal that he lacked for the most part in his first two years with the Rams and of course in his Lions career.
LH: Kyren Williams has been a huge surprise, at least to those of us not associated with the Rams. Facing a Saints defense that hasn’t been amazing against the run, what do you expect to see from Williams on Thursday?
EC: Kyren Williams has been a pleasant surprise this season. His success was unexpected as former running back Cam Akers was slotted as RB1 entering the year given his performance in the final three games in ‘22. Clearly that stretch was a fluke as Akers stunk it up in the opener as Williams stepped up. One game was all the proof McVay needed to trade Akers to the Vikings and move forward with Kyren. Again, not many people associated with the Rams expected him to be closing in on a 1,000-yard campaign in just his second year.
What I expect to see on Thursday is a heavy dosage of Williams. Since returning off IR on November 26 against the Cardinals, the second year back has been given at least 16 carries per game. He’s also been averaging 24 carries in the last three games while rushing for 497 yards and two touchdowns in the past four. Williams is a big play waiting to happen and is incredibly effective in the passing game as well. I don’t anticipate him slowing down anytime soon as he’s seemingly just getting started.
LH: Cooper Kupp has had a surprisingly quiet season since returning from his injury. I know that Puca Nacua is having a terrific year, but as someone who’s watched every game, do you see any other reason he’s struggled (to his standards) so far?
EC: Kupp actually started the season out well after coming off IR in a Week 5 loss to the Eagles. The All-Pro had back-to-back games over 100 yards receiving before going through a rough patch in which he failed to record at least 50 yards receiving in six straight. That quiet period led me to write a post on how the Rams should consider moving on from Kupp in the offseason. Well, my post generated some obvious controversy amongst the fanbase while pissing off a former Rams QB in the process. (Oops!)
But to answer your question, the reason Kupp has struggled for a large portion of the season is due to injuries. I don’t think he was fully recovered from his hamstring injury that landed him on IR to start the year. The lingering effects from his injury appeared to limit his effectiveness during that six-game stretch which is why most of the fanbase was questioning what was actually going on with him. Apparently Kupp is regaining his form, or he’s destined to prove me wrong after reading my article as he’s gone over 100 yards in back-to-back games against the Ravens and Commanders. While I expect he’s really starting to get healthy again, I would still like to take full credit for helping him rebound. You’re welcome, Coop!
LH: Aaron Donald is the clear leader of this defense, but Kobie Turner is in the middle of a big season as well. What have you seen from the Rams defensive line? And how do you see them performing against a Saints offensive line that has had their struggles this season?
EC: I’m so glad you mentioned Kobie Turner as he’s someone I’ve been highlighting every week. In the first half of the season, it was primarily the Aaron Donald show as no other young pass rusher was stepping up as they needed to. Turner in particular showed flashes but had yet to put it all together. The line needed time to gel and mature as they figured out their roles and they’re just now beginning to figure it out, slowly but surely. Kobie has amassed 3.5 of his 5.5 sacks during LA’s 4-1 stretch and has gotten fairly consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Keep in mind, this isn’t an overly spectacular unit just yet as besides AD and Turner, no one else has exactly made their presence felt. LA only registered one sack on the Commanders who have one of the worst offensive lines in the game. How they fare against the Saints’ struggling O-line is anyone’s guess. I would like to say they bounce back from a disappointing game on that front, but their inconsistency gives me pause at the moment.
LH: The Saints and Rams both got big wins and are in the midst of a playoff push. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Rams as 3-point favorites currently (might change by the time you answer this), do you think the Rams will cover?
EC: The Rams are clearly getting hot at the right time as Sean McVay’s squad has gone 4-1 since their bye. Things were looking bleak heading into their bye week, especially after their ugly loss to the Packers with Matthew Stafford sidelined. Those were the dark days and I prefer not to remember them at all. LA’s offense is red-hot as they’re led by the collective efforts of Stafford and Kyren Williams. I expect those two to continue putting up respectable numbers with the Rams’ playoff fate on the line against the Saints. My feeling is that this will be a lower scoring game than expected, yet I envision LA will do enough to pull away late. So yes I think the Rams cover in this one.
Thank you again to Evan for joining us to preview the Saints and Rams matchup this week! You can check out the rest of his work here.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.