By Sam McPherson
After dropping another close game last week, the Rams are on the road in Week 12 to take on the New Orleans Saints, a team in the same position as Los Angeles with a 4-6 record this season. Both teams have slim playoff hopes at this time, and one more loss for either team means the postseason will remain out of reach this year.
The Saints have a potent offense and a poor defense, which means this is a unique challenge for a team like the Rams, as Los Angeles is just the opposite. One thing is certain, though: Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff will get his chance to throw the ball in this game against a Saints defense that is giving up the third-most points in the league right now. If the Los Angeles defense can help him out with a turnover or two, perhaps that can jump-start the Rams offense a bit in this game.
Saints Overall Record
At 4-6, the New Orleans squad is two games behind Atlanta in the NFC South Division. The Saints began the season 0-3 after dropping their first two games by a combined four points, and now they've lost their last two by five points total. The Saints clearly are very used to playing in close contests, and in 2016, eight of their 10 games have been decided by six points or less.
New Orleans' best win came over the Seattle Seahawks, 25-20, in Week 8. The Saints have played a very tough schedule, losing to five winning teams overall: Oakland, New York (NFC), Atlanta, Kansas City and Denver. The fact that New Orleans has played such close games against such fierce competition bodes well for the Saints down the stretch as their schedule gets a little easier.
Saints On Offense
New Orleans sports one of the top offenses in the league, gaining 422 yards per game (tops in the NFL) and scoring 28.5 points per game (third overall). QB Drew Brees is having another stellar season, leading the NFL in passing yards (3,277), completion percentage (71.0) and touchdowns (26). He has a quartet of favorite receivers that average 46 receptions, 593 yards and 4.5 touchdowns right now. Brees can pick apart any defense, as evidenced by the team's win over Seattle.
On the ground, the Saints have two running backs carrying the load. Mark Ingram (576 yards) and Tim Hightower (366 yards) can both hurt defenses in multiple ways, as Brees has completed 42 passes to the duo combined this season. In fact, nine different New Orleans players have at least 10 receptions this season, so Brees certainly can spread the ball around when he needs to.
Saints On Defense
Everything that New Orleans is on offense fails to carry over to the defense. The Saints rank 27th in yards allowed per game (382.8), and they give up 28.6 points per game. That number is the third-worst mark in the league. But it would be folly to think the New Orleans defense doesn't have any talent. Linebacker Craig Robertson is one of the top tacklers in the league (89 tackles this season), while defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Cameron Jordan have combined for 8.5 sacks this season up front.
The secondary is the true weakness for the Saints, however, as New Orleans is surrendering 280.7 yards per game through the air. Beyond Fairley and Jordan, the Saints aren't generating enough pressure on opposing QBs, and New Orleans has just six interceptions as a team this season. Twenty teams in the league have more picks than the Saints do this season.
Saints Players To Watch
Logically, if a defense can stifle the Saints' running game with relative ease, it can put more pressure on Brees. Therefore, if Hightower and Ingram aren't moving the sticks, it makes Brees' job a whole lot harder. But the New Orleans QB has completed almost 76 percent of his passes over the last five games, whether the running backs have been successful or not. It's just a dangerous game to play when you face the Saints.
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has played in just 10 games since the 2013 season due to injuries, but he already has two sacks in three games this season for New Orleans. His healthy presence for the Saints has already paid dividends, so the Rams will need to keep an eye on him as well as the other pass rushers on the N.O. defense.
When QBs like Colin Kaepernick can look good against the Saints defense, there's hope for a rookie like Goff to be able to as well. However, the Saints have a solid run defense, so look for New Orleans to stack the box against the Los Angeles offense in an attempt to stop running back Todd Gurley and force Goff to beat them. There's opportunity to be had, but Brees has enough experience to slice up any defense in the league. Especially at home, the Saints offense is tough to stop. Look for New Orleans to win this game readily by a 31-21 score.
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