The Rams are one of the best teams in the league at throwing the football down the field.
During the regular season, they ranked second in the league with 14 passing plays of 40 or more yards and were fifth with 59 plays of 20 or more yards. The Saints should be fearful of Los Angeles’ ability to throw down the field, right?
But there might be some situations where it makes more sense to try and entice the Rams into throwing the ball down the field. Maybe Jared Goff and the offense have figured things out, but Los Angeles’ deep passing game has been anything but fearsome lately.
Earlier in the season, the Rams were deadly on deep passes. From Weeks 1-10, Los Angeles connected on 59.7 percent of its passes that traveled 15 or more yards through the air for 1,220 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. From Weeks 11-17, those numbers fell to 28.5 percent, three touchdowns and five interceptions, according to Sports Info Solutions.
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The Saints have allowed some deep passes this season but have been a lot better during the second half of the season (40 percent passing for 563 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions from Weeks 11-17). If they take this approach, it needs to be done cautiously and with the understanding that this passing offense could snap out of whatever funk has been plaguing it the past few weeks.
It's odd to say with the way Los Angeles started this season, but stopping the run might be the more difficult task this week.
STATIC OR SWITCH IT UP?
Los Angeles should be a little bit better on defense this week against the Saints.
The Rams were without top cornerback Aqib Talib during the Week 9 meeting, which allowed Saints receiver Michael Thomas to take advantage of Marcus Peters throughout the game. New Orleans knew it had a mismatch and was more than happy to exploit it as Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards.
The Rams should look to do a better job of dictating matchups with Talib back. The veteran cornerback has played well since coming back from an ankle injury in Week 13 and is progressively improving with each performance. He gave up only two catches for 14 yards during last week’s playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Dog-ness. Champion,” Ted Ginn Jr. said of Talib. “That guy has been on every level that you can possibly be on in this game. No. 1 cornerback. He plays ball, lights out.”
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has never shied away from saying it -- the home-field advantage at Mercedes-Benz Superdome is real.
An interesting fact is that, outside of the New Orleans game, the Rams have had their cornerbacks play sides most of the season. Since Talib has returned, he has played on the left side while Peters takes the right. Los Angeles has also played more zone coverage since seeing the Saints.
This approach would allow New Orleans to dictate the matchups on some level, so it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams break tendency and put Talib on Thomas.
PROTECT HIM AT ALL COSTS
The Saints didn’t shut down Aaron Donald the last time these teams played.
Accomplishing such a task is nearly impossible, and even if a team does take Donald out of the game, that just means another player is going to be set free due to the attention paid to the defensive tackle. It is sort of like the problem created when teams double Thomas.
“It is hard to say you’re going to keep him in check,” coach Sean Payton said. “He’s played as well at that three-technique position as we’ve seen in years. I mean, arguably — I don’t know if it’s even an argument — he’s the best defensive player today in football. His numbers and his production, it shows up in the run game, it shows up in the passing game, and it’s a challenge.”
Donald finished the season with 20½ sacks, 10 more than any other defensive tackle. He did not record a sack against the Saints, but he did finish with four quarterback hits and three hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Saints were a single tackle away. The Minnesota Miracle drove headlines for days, and Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown catch that sent the …
Keeping him contained is arguably the biggest key to this game. And that will likely put him up against left guard Andrus Peat quite often, which could be a problem since Peat is playing through a broken hand and struggled at times last week with holding calls against Philadelphia.
But perhaps more attention should be paid to the fact that, outside of those few holding penalties, the Eagles’ interior defensive line didn’t get create a damaging amount of pressure last week. Fletcher Cox, who was the second-ranked defensive tackle in sacks this season, had a few pressures, while Haloti Ngata and Philadelphia’s other interior players were reasonably held in check.
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Those guys are going to have to hold up well enough to give Brees some time, but it will also be on the quarterback to keep his eyes open and get the ball out quickly when needed to protect himself.
DON’T BE FOOLED
The Saints will need to be aware of how Los Angeles likes to use play-action during this game.
The Rams did a solid job of controlling the New Orleans pass rush with it during the last meeting, which is something they try to do against every team. Goff led the NFL with 194 play-action passes this season, of which he completed 120 attempts for 1,867 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Despite ranking in the top half of the NFL in overall defense, the Saints have allowed eight touchdowns and a field goal on opening drives.
The Saints have been susceptible to these looks at times. Opposing teams have attempted 129 play-action passes against New Orleans, completing 86 for 1,133 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. The Saints have, however, collected seven sacks on these plays.
Losing Sheldon Rankins will hurt in many ways this week, but not having him on the field to help get the defensive line set and organized will be one of the unseen areas where it impacts the team. The defensive tackle is often the player who recognizes different alignments and alerts his teammates to what is happening.