Ladies and gentlemen, the stage has been set. The NFC Championship game is nearing, and the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints will duel for a third time this season because of it. The first was a week four preseason meeting where the Saints thrashed the Rams 28-0, and the second a week nine meeting where the Saints escaped a narrow victory of 45-35.
So.... third times the charm, right?
Let’s take a look at the Saints and what the numbers say.
Taking a look at the statistics, the Saints are third in points per game (30.8), they’re 4th in converting redzone opportunities into touchdowns (70.42%), 7th in yards per game (381.6), and 7th in yards per play (6.0). They’re 8th in third down conversions per game (5.3), 3rd in average time of possession (31:48), and 5th in third down conversion percentage (45.2%).
It’s pretty evident their offense is really good, pretty much by every standard. They score a lot of points, they’re efficient, they convert third downs and extend drives, they hold the ball for long periods of time, and they can move the ball by running it or passing it. The two key players on offense are WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara. Thomas was unstoppable in the first matchup against the Rams as he received 15 targets, converting 12 of them for receptions for 211 yards and one touchdown. Kamara proved to be a thorn of the same magnitude as he totaled 110 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas’ ability to catch the ball is unprecedented as he had an 85% catch rate this year on 125 receptions (147 targets). Kamara is one of the most dangerous dual-threat weapons in the league as he can run the ball at a high level and doubles down as a receiver out of the backfield, particularly proving to be a problem on his noteworthy “option” routes.
The Saints defense ranks 12th in points per game (21.6), 11th in yards per game (343.2), 18th in yards per play (5.7), 25th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage (64.00%), 15th in third down conversions per game (4.7), 6th in sacks (2.9), and 13th in takeaways per game (1.5).
The defense is about average to above average. Obviously the most important factor is points allowed and they’re 12th in that regard, but they are definitely susceptible. Also, just last week DT Sheldon Rankins tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the season. That proves to be a major loss as Rankins is one of their best defenders as he had eight sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss, and 15 QB hits this year. Rankins will prove to be a major loss to that defensive line both as a pass rusher and run stuffer.
The first matchup between the Rams and Saints was interesting to say the least. The Saints offense was unstoppable as they scored 35 in the half, though the Rams didn’t do so bad themselves with 17 points of their own. The second half proved to be the Rams’ half as they battled back and tied the game up at 35 with seven or so minutes left in the game, though things went awry after that. The game could (and should) have had a different outcome because of the blunder from the referee’s spotting the ball short on a clear conversion from P Johnny Hekker on fourth down. Not only that, but K Greg Zuerlein missed a 51-yard field goal which is generally automatic for him (insane to think a 51-yarder is automatic for anyone).
It’s time for the Rams to capitalize, because you never know how long it’ll take to get back to this point. With their recent offensive innovation, the Saints’ defense could very well be caught off-guard allowing the Rams to ensure plenty of points on the scoreboard. This game will likely once again be a relatively high scoring affair, though I wouldn’t expect another 45-35 shootout. I would not be surprised at all if both teams hovered around the 30-point mark, however.
It’s officially gumbo week, the countdown begins.