At one time, this would have been a marque matchup in the NFL. The winner of this game would likely end up with the number one seed in the NFC and be one of the favorites for the Superbowl.
This season, how the mighty have fallen, both teams ravished with injuries, staring down the barrel of an aging roster and limited resources to inject fresh, younger talent into teams that really need it.
Of course, both teams want to win this game, but how much does it matter in the bigger picture? With the Saints at 3-7 and the Rams at 3-6, Compare to the stakes of years gone by, this game has an unusual feel of unimportance.
With prideful stars on each team, I doubt they feel like these teams’ seasons are lost, so let’s look at three key matchups for the Saints on Sunday.
Saints Backup Offensive Line Vs Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is one of the biggest nightmares for offensive coaches to plan, even if the team is at full strength on the offensive line. If the Saints injury report continues in the same vein, then they will be far from full strength.
As it stands, they will be down three of their five day-one starters. Starting LT James Hurst is currently still in concussion protocol and is not practicing. When a player is not practicing this late into the week whilst in the concussion protocol, it is usually a near certainty that they will not be playing.
Starting LG Andrus Peat is also not practicing due to a Triceps injury that kept him out of last week’s game, so it looks very unlikely that he will be playing this week. Add to that starting center Erik McCoy is on injured reserve and is for at least the next three games after missing the games Vs. Pittsburgh last week. That leaves the Saints very shorthanded at a position group that was one of their lone strengths earlier in the season.
The expected replacements Landon Young (LT), Josh Andrews (C), and Calvin Throckmorton (LG) did not fill anyone with much confidence in last week’s game against the Steelers. The Steelers have plenty of talent on the d-line, including T.J. Watt, who’s as dominant of a player as Donald, but Watt generally didn’t line up against the replacement players too often. He spent much of his time facing off with incumbent starting RT Ryan Ramczyk.
Donald can and will regularly line up against the replacement players at center and LG., which presents a massive set of issues for the line and the Saints coaches to try and prepare for. It’s vital that they contain Donald as much as humanly possible, as in recent weeks when the blocking has broken down in both the passing and running game, the offense has ground to a complete halt.
Saints Running Game Vs Rams Defense
As we’ve already highlighted, the Saints will again be down many key starters on the offensive line this week. Against the Steelers, this meant they struggled to create any meaningful offense. That struggle was massively due to the dis-functions on the offensive line, meaning the offense could not establish any running game.
Without a run game, this offense led by QB Andy Dalton is not potent enough to be successful. They need to be able to pick up solid yardage on early down carries to make third-down conversions easier. This team struggles hugely when it ends up in third and long, which frequently happens when they can’t run the ball.
Also, the offenses main weapons, outside of rookie sensation Chris Olave are Alvin Kamara, and Taysom Hill, both of these players are predominantly deployed in the rushing attack. Though they both should be a massive part of the passing game, the Saints have struggled in recent weeks to keep them involved in this area.
The Saints depleted rushing attack face another stiff test this week with a strong Rams run defense. They rank 5th in the league (tied with the Jets) with a stingy 4 YPC allowed to opposing offenses. Led by hall of fame LB Bobby Wagner and the previously mentioned Aaron Donald.
A stand-out stat from looking at the Rams run defense, per PFF, they have only missed 21 tackles in run defense this year, which is incredibly low. The 49ers, who are allowing a league-low 3.4 YPC, have missed 25. The Saints, who were once the league’s best-run defense, have missed a massive 49 tackles whilst defending the run this season. This stat shows one of the Saints biggest issues that’s caused a huge drop in their production against the run this year.
if we look at the top two players from each team from LB and the D-line regarding tackles in the run game, some more Saints issues show up.
Cam Jordan- 20 tackles, six missed tackles, 16.7% missed tackle rate.
Pete Werner- 32 tackles, four missed tackles, 8.7% missed tackle rate.
Aaron Donald- 27 tackles, one missed tackle,2.8% missed tackles rate.
Bobby Wagner- 24 tackles, zero missed tackles.
This shows where the Saints are failing against the run and where the Rams are massively succeeding. The Saints have to find a way to overcome their disadvantages and establish the run this weekend. Otherwise, it will be another very long day for the offense.
Saints Front Four Vs Matthew Stafford
The Saints pass rush has shown signs of life in recent weeks. It does look like they will be without Marcus Davenport again this week and could be without ironman DE Cameron Jordan who’s not been practicing due to a nasty eye injury. However, Payton Turner and David Onyemata have played much better in recent weeks giving the d-line a bit more depth.
The front four’s play is crucial this week. As it appears, blitzing Rams QB, Matt Stafford actually does the defense more harm than good. Below are Matt Stafford’s passing stats (provided by PFF) when under pressure and not when he’s blitzed and when he’s not.
What you can clearly see is Stafford’s play so far this year has been its best when he’s been blitzed, and Stafford has struggled a lot more when under pressure (not from the blitz) or when he’s been kept clean.
Meaning the Saints need to win up front without blitzing. This should not be a problem considering the Rams are actually more injured on their offensive line than the Saints. The Rams have six offensive linemen on IR, with at least three of those being starters at some point this year and others who would have been starters with the current injuries.
Even if the Saints are down some key starters, they SHOULD still have enough up-front to make Matthew Stafford struggle, especially when we won’t have the quick throw to Cooper Kupp available with Kupp also out this game.
For more Saints articles- https://www.full10yards.co.uk/saints/
Please let me know your feedback on this article and the others throughout the season. I’m always looking to improve and add things that people want to read about!
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @SaintsReportUK, for much more Saints content and discussion.