The meeting of these two NFC juggernauts has been highly anticipated and the hype has only gotten greater and greater. The Rams sitting at 8-0 traveling to New Orleans to take on the 6-1 Saints is shaping up to potentially be the game of the year, certainly the game of the week. First time in NFL history that two teams averaging more than 33 points scored per game are facing off and, although only in Week 9 of the season – playoff implications are abound as this game could decide the stadium through which the road to the Super Bowl goes. With a lot on he line and a lot on the mind for this game, let’s look at some key elements that the Saints may need in order to hand Sean McVay and company their first L of the season.
1. Limit Cooper Kupp in the slot.
My buddies at ASC are on the money here. Cooper Kupp has taking more than the majority of his snaps from the slot and producing while he’s at it. Of his 30 catches and 438 yards, 26 catches and 369 yards have come from inside. As too have all 5 of his season touchdowns so far. Kupp in the slot means he’ll be matched up mostly with PJ Williams while Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple are busy with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. PJ has given up a cool 70.8% of his targets for catches and has allowed 191 yards and 2 touchdowns from the slot. He also had last week’s pick-6 from the slot, but that had more to do with Diggs not running his route. So Williams will be trusted to provide coverage more akin to his Giants, Washington, and Baltimore weeks in which he allowed under 30 yards each week and no touchdowns over that stretch from the slot. The challenge here is Kupp himself who is far more talented than the entire NYG and WAS receiver groups.
2. Get the run game popping.
There’s a lot of talk about both the Rams and Saints run defense. The challenge that the Saints defense present is its dynamic nature which separates it from other teams the Rams have faced. Of the 8 opponents the Rams have faced so far- 5 have averaged over 100 yards rushing this season. To those five teams, the Rams have surrendered 80, 86, and 116 yard rushers. Against the Charger, who also have a dangerous running back tandem, they gave up 80 yards on the ground to Melvin Gordon (1 touchdown) and 73 total yards to Austin Ekeler. 116 yards to Chris Carson of the Seahawks was paired with 68 on the ground by Mike Davis. There’s a formula available that shows that, if you can keep your running backs fresh and rotate while the defense takes some shots to the chin over and over, that success can be had. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are two of the best in the league and Sean Payton knows how to keep them fresh. The Saints will need to do this in order to set up the passing game but also control the clock as you do not want to give Sean McVay the advantage in time of possession.
3. Keep theirs from popping.
The Saints field the league’s best rush defense and will be taking on the league’s best rushing offense. Todd Gurley, who has barely faced 8-man fronts thanks to the success of the passing attack, averages exactly 100 yards per game. The Rams however have faced run defenses ranked 16th or worse in the league 6 of their 8 games. In the two games in which they’ve played against teams better than 16th, Gurley rushed for 83 yards and 63 yards against the Vikings and 49ers respectively. He did have 2 touchdowns against the 49ers. The trick for the Saints will be to contain the run without giving up big plays to the pass.
4. Make Goff earn it.
A big part of not giving up big plays to the passing game will be keeping Jared Goff off-balance. Total this season Goff carries a 67.6 completion percentage. That drops drastically to 46.8% when under pressure. He’s also thrown 2 of his 5 interceptions this year while under pressure as well. Getting to Goff is going to be huge for this Saints defense which is why they’re hoping for Trey Hendrickson to be able to step up and fill the void left by missing Marcus Davenport as a situational pass rusher when Alex Okafor isn’t on the field.
5. Step up the pass game outside of MT and the backfield.
The Saints have struggled to get another big threat out of their wideouts not named Michael Thomas so far this season. This is game for someone like Tre’Quan Smith or Cameron Meredith to step up. Aqib Talib is out and Marcus Peters, who will be working on Michael Thomas I’m sure, is playing banged up. Michael Thomas should be able to take advantage of his favorable matchup, but it would be an incredible boon for the team if another receiver were able to step up and make some noise much like Smith did against Washington. Smith will likely end up being covered by either Sam Shields (Questionable to play) or Troy Hill, both of which have given up more than 230 yards and at least 2 touchdowns on the outside so far this season. Meanwhile, Cameron Meredith and Austin Carr would likely draw Nickell Robey-Coleman who has given up 140 yards and a touchdown in the slot. Additionally, Sheids has given up a 128.4 passer rating while Hill his given up one of 118.9 on the outside, 126.7 in the few snaps he’s taken from the slot.
The Saints are in a good position to hand Los Angeles their first loss of the season an doing it at home is all the merrier. Though don’t take the Saints last 49-21 home victory against a Gregg Williams led Rams defense for evidence of what today will look like. It’s true thought hat a lot of what the Saints do well can easily take advantage of the Rams inadequacies on defense if the offensive line can continue to play the way it has. It all comes down to the Saints defense here and what they’re able to achieve with a new, and now learned piece in their secondary in Eli Apple and a fearsome front-7 led by Cameron Jordan. It will be quite a showdown in New Orleans today and it’s gonna be a ton of fun to watch.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC