The Rams and the Saints both enter Week 12 with a 4-6 record. While the Rams have stumbled to four wins with their defense, the Saints have done so with their offense. The stout, tenacious defense of the Rams against the high octane offense of the Saints should make for quite the show. However, the Rams’ putrid offense giving their best effort to trudge down the field against a middling Saints defense will be an ugly affair.
Rams Offense vs Saints Defense
Over the past month or so, the Saints defense has made strides, but they’ve only gone from bad to mediocre. Despite their improvement, they are still a defense that can be beaten. The front seven, while it has some high quality pieces, is terribly inconsistent. Meanwhile, the secondary gives up a lot of catches around the hash marks. They can cover the boundary fairly well, but the middle of the field is not where they win; the Saints secondary is a bigger, more physical group that can’t always hang in man coverage.
Unfortunately, if there is any offense that can’t abuse the Saints defense, it is the Rams offense. Last week was rookie quarterback Jared Goff’s first start and the offense looked no better than it did with Case Keenum behind center. Granted, a rookie’s first start being in the rain and against a better front seven than the Saints have was quite a challenge, but it was a disappointing showing, nonetheless. This will be Goff’s opportunity to prove that he can elevate the offense, even if just by a little bit.
- Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison is terribly inconsistent. He plays 1-tech (between guard and center) for the Saints, so the middle of the Saints defense depends on him. There are a handful of times per game where Davison gets blown off the ball. Rams need to do so and take advantage.
- Both of the Saints starting cornerbacks (Delvin Breaux and Ken Crawley) are tall, long players. They thrive when being allowed to flow up and down the sideline, but they can be worked inside.
- Defensive end Cameron Jordan is a problem.
- The Saints like to blitz and their linebackers are good at doing so. With a rookie behind center for the Rams, they may go to their blitzes often.
Nick Fairley Holds Up the Saints Interior Defense
A year ago, defensive tackle Nick Fairley was apart of the Rams. Fairley has now been replaced by Dominique Easley. Fairley has been excellent for the Saints this season, providing them the spark that they needed along the interior of their defensive line. In fact, since Fairley’s addition, the Saints have shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense.
Fairley mostly plays 3-tech for the Saints. 3-techs play between the guard and the tackle, and tend to be a quicker, more explosive defensive tackle than the 1-tech by their side. Fairley has been exactly that. Whether it be in run defense or as a pass rusher, Fairley slices through offensive lines like a hot knife through butter. He has a little bit of an issue with taking plays off from time to time, but his “on” plays make him well worth it.
Fairley is lined up between the left guard and left tackle on this play. As the ball is snapped, Fairley begins his rush path by shimmying out wide to coax the left guard into following him out there. The left guard takes the bait and overextends himself, lending Fairley all the space he needed in order to hit the gas and zoom into the backfield to take down Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian.
The Rams have a worse interior offensive line than the Broncos do and, being with the team last season, Fairley knows it. While it’s well known that Cameron Jordan will be tough to handle at defensive end, Fairley’s presence as an interior disruptor could be what does the most damage to the Rams offense.
The Saints Second Level Can’t Defend the Run
The Rams offensive line is bad, that much is known. A large part of why they are bad, though, comes down to how they handle combo blocks. Combo blocks—or double teams—generally have two offensive linemen engaging one player at the snap of the ball, with one of the linemen eventually peeling off to reach a defender at the second level. When executing these blocks, the linemen have to secure the first block in order for the second block to have any significance. This is where the Rams fail.
Too often, the Rams’ offensive linemen get too caught up in making their block at the second level that they fail to complete their block at the first level. Left guard Rodger Saffold was a culprit of this last week against the Dolphins.
The Rams can’t do that against the Saints. Linemen often peak to the second level because they are scared that the linebackers will beat them to their spot. While the Saints linebackers are not the worst in the league, they are often late in reacting and getting to their spots. This week more than any other, the Rams have to settle down and secure their first level blocks.
Dannell Ellerbe (#59) and Craig Robertson (#52) are the Saints linebackers on this play, and both of them fail to slow down the Broncos on this play. Robertson, who is typically the better run defender, plays far too passive on this snap. He backtracks at the beginning of the play, then takes too long to click-and-close on the ball. Robertson eventually makes the tackle, but doing so nine yards down the field does not make the play much better than if somebody else made the tackle.
Ellerbe, on the other hand, made a less egregious error, though he did not have a great play, either. As the weak side linebacker on this stretch run, Ellerbe’s first job is to contain cutback, then close on the ball. Ellerbe moves in the right direction and, at first, seems to be executing his assignment, but when faced with a blocker, Ellerbe slows down and allows himself to be chopped, instead of trying to bend around the blocker. Again, Ellerbe’s play was not nearly as bad as Robertson’s, but it was not ideal.
Rams Defense vs Saints Offense
This is a battle between two top ten units. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the Rams defense ranks 9th in the league, compared to a Saints offense that ranks 5th in the league. Both units have pulled most of the weight for their respective teams and this game will be a brutal challenge for each side.
- The Saints wide receivers are excellent. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead are quick, fast receivers who are threats to make big plays, while Michael Thomas, a rookie, is a prototypical No.1 wide receiver who can win on the outside.
- The Saints aren’t bullies on the ground, but they are proficient. They are 13th in the league in rushing DVOA.
- Injuries have tainted what was a quietly great Saints offensive line. It’s still a quality unit, but the Rams are catching them at the right time. Center Max Unger is good and healthy, though, so his battle with Michael Brockers will be fun.
Drew Brees is a Magician and the Saints WRs Will Get Open
Drew Brees is damn near 38 years old and is still one of the most prolific passers in the NFL. His arm strength is not quite what it once was, but Brees has not at all regressed in terms of footwork, mobility, accuracy and decision making. He makes defenses pay for every mistake. When the defense gives Brees an inch, he takes ten yards. He milks every yard out of every play with his efficiency, which is a great compliment to his ability to still drop passes into a bucket down the field.
Pocket movement is the key to Brees’ game. He’s plenty good at everything else that makes a top tier quarterback, but the way that Brees maneuvers open areas of the pocket, sifts through the trash and finds ideal throwing platforms is stunning. Only Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson are comparable, in that regard.
On the play above, Brees evades pass rushers, slides up in the pocket and delivers an accurate throwing while a defender is trying to cling onto him. Brees’ savvy allows him to negate good defensive plays. Luckily for Brees, he isn’t the only man on the offense who can do that.
The Saints receivers are very good at getting open. After the first two seconds or so, it’s tough to keep up with them in coverage, especially the quicker guys like Cooks and Snead. Snead is the receiver who gets free on the play above, giving Brees a wide open target to find on a play where Brees desperately needed to get the ball out as the pocket fell apart around him.
The Saints are Blitz Killers
Above all else, Brees often negates whatever pressure the defense brings at him. He can’t get away from every sack, but he sure does get sacked fewer times than he should. The Saints also keep Brees clean with quick throws that are designed to target areas where certain teams tend to blitz from. With as often as the Rams blitz their safeties and nickel defenders, this could be a problem for the Rams.
This play is designed perfectly to counteract a blitz from the nickel defender. The Saints run a swing to the running back to the right side of the field, while running a quick screen to the slot receiver on the left. If the nickel defender doesn’t blitz, Brees flips the ball out to his right and hopes that the blockers keep the running back safe.
On this play, though, the nickel defender did exactly what Brees wanted him to do. Recognizing the blitz, Brees quickly got the ball out to Snead, who would have plenty of room to run since the nickel defender had just vacated the area. If the Rams blitz early, look for the Saints to hit them with something like this.
Records aside, the Saints feel like the better team. They have an explosive, reliable offense and a defense that has been making enough strides to not entirely hinder the offense. The Rams have an excellent defense that will slow the Saints offense down more than most other defenses have been able to do, but Brees will still find his way to the end zone, while it’s tough to imagine this Rams offense doing that much themselves.
The Rams defense will make this a challenge for the Saints, but with the Saints having the Superdome field advantage, the black and gold will grab their fifth victory of the season.