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Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: Matchups to watch revisited

Let’s revisit the matchups to watch and see which team won the battles

NFC Championship - Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams proved that the third time is actually a charm, because in their third matchup against the New Orleans Saints, they escaped victorious and punched their ticket to Superbowl 53.

Let’s revisit the matchups to watch:

CB’s Aqib Talib/Marcus Peters vs WR Michael Thomas

Last week’s matchup to watch:

The Rams’ cornerbacks are going to have their hands full this week as they face one of the most unique and dominant wide receivers in the league. Thomas’ 2018 campaign was one for the books as he pulled in 125 receptions for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns on an unprecedented 85% catch rate (147 targets). As we all know, Thomas abused the Rams in their first encounter with 12 receptions for 211 yards and a touchdown. The major positive for the Rams this time around is that CB Aqib Talib is healthy and playing, and his body style/game matches up well with a player similar to Thomas’ play style. Notably, Marcus Peters had an awful game, so look for the matchup between these two and Mike Thomas to be a back-and-forth one.

Michael Thomas turned seven targets into four receptions for 36 yards. The Rams clearly came in with an advanced plan this time around ensuring they’d dare anyone else on the Saints to beat them, but not Thomas. Thomas was routinely bracket covered by a CB having outside leverage and a safety coming down and covering with inside leverage. This was a fantastic adjustment by the coaching staff — more notably Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips — after Thomas proved to be a massive issue in the week nine matchup.

WR Brandin Cooks vs CB Marshon Lattimore

Last week’s matchup to watch:

Former Saint Brandin Cooks also had himself a nice return to the Superdome as he reeled in six receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown in week nine. This week he’ll likely see a ton of Marshon Lattimore in coverage as Lattimore can be seen travelling with teams’ #1 receivers at times, and the Saints will likely view Cooks as that after the first matchup. Cooks (as well as running mate WR Robert Woods) will need to create as much separation as possible to create open throwing lanes for QB Jared Goff.

Anyway you slice it, Brandin Cooks won this matchup against Marshon Lattimore. On eight targets, Cooks managed seven receptions for 107 yards, with one of those catches being the most important in the game. It was the deep shot down the left side of the field prior to halftime that put the Rams at the 6-yard line and allowed the Rams to cut the lead to 13-10 before halftime. Cooks was routinely winning using his deep speed to set up defensive backs and then cutting on a dime returning to Goff and opening a throwing window. Cooks also had a fantastic tip-toe sideline catch along the left sideline.

RB’s Todd Gurley/C.J. Anderson vs Saints’ front-seven

Last week’s matchup to watch:

The duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson combined for 39 carries, 238 rushing yards, and three touchdowns on the ground last week against the best rushing defense remaining in the playoffs (Dallas Cowboys). This week, they’ll get another solid defense, but one that is absolutely a step down from the Cowboys’ caliber. The rushing attack for the Rams’ offense has thrown a wrench into what everyone thought they knew about the Rams, keeping defenses off-kilter. Good luck to the Saints’ defense, as they’ll need to prepare to stop everything from an explosive passing game with multiple weapons, to a backfield with multiple runners who spell each other creating freshness and a full compliment of varying skill-sets.

The duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson were completely stifled by the Saints’ front-seven, which is relatively strange but at the same time not at all. The Saints have been a very solid run defense all year, though I really over-estimated the loss of DT Sheldon Rankins. Regardless, Anderson and Gurley combined for 20 carries for 54 yards and one touchdown. They weren’t incredibly productive, but they sufficed in pass pro and allowed the passing game to take over.

Rams’ OL vs Saints’ DL

Last week’s matchup to watch:

The Rams’ offensive line is simply one of the best (if not the best) units in the league. Their ability to perform at an elite level both in pass pro and in the run game is what makes the offense click. When Jared Goff is given a clean pocket, he can look unstoppable. As well as the run game, which we all seen the capabilities of last week. In the first contest, Jared Goff went un-sacked and the rushing attack gained just over 100 yards on the ground. The Saints’ key weapon on the defensive line will be DE Cameron Jordan, who’ll require extra attention. The recent loss of DT Sheldon Rankins will prove to be a large feat to overcome for New Orleans, though rookie DE Marcus Davenport can still be an impact second defensive lineman.

The offensive line had a solid but unspectacular game. Jared Goff was only sacked once by Cameron Jordan, so that’s relatively ideal. Goff generally had good pockets to operate from and knew exactly when to bail the pocket and create time on his own scrambling when he didn’t. Run blocking struggled as the Rams averaged roughly three yards-per-carry, though this is a performance you’d take every time.

ILB’s Cory Littleton/Mark Barron vs RB Alvin Kamara

Last week’s matchup to watch:

Alvin Kamara is a massive issue, and the Rams will need to find a way to at least limit him out of the backfield. In the week nine contest, Kamara had 19 rushes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, though he also chipped in with four receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown. Everything the Rams tried failed. From covering with Cory Littleton or Mark Barron, to moving FS Lamarcus Joyner down in man coverage, or even bracket coverage, nothing worked. It might be best to take a page out of the Cowboys’ playbook and allow a secondary member (Joyner, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Marqui Christian, Blake Countess) to come down and man cover Kamara one-on-one.

As a runner, Alvin Kamara was complete neutralized as he had eight carries for 15 yards averaging 1.9 yards-per-carry. He did prove to be an issue as a receiver though, as Cory Littleton simply couldn’t keep up with Kamara on multiple occasions. As a receiver, Kamara registered 11 receptions for 96 yards. Littleton better be ready, because his assignment doesn’t get much easier in the Superbowl against New England Patriots RB James White.

DT’s Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh vs OG’s Andrus Peat/Larry Warford

Last week’s matchup to watch:

Aaron Donald — as always — had an incredible impact in the first contest as he registered a tackle-for-loss, four QB hits, a pass deflection, and a fumble recovery. The duo of Donald and Ndamukong Suh didn’t register for any sacks in the contest, so that’ll hopefully change in this edition. Andrus Peat struggled mightily against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, and it was revealed that he was playing with a broken hand. On the other hand, Suh arguably had the best game of his career in horns.

Aaron Donald proved to be a major weapon as a run defender, forcing a fumble on a snap where the QB (I believe Taysom Hill) was late to hand it to Alvin Kamara. Not only that, but Donald registered two tackles-for-loss. Ndamukong Suh has clearly been saving his best play for the playoffs as he was once again a monster, registering four tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one tackle-for-loss. The better this duo gets together, the better the defense becomes.

QB Jared Goff vs Saints’ secondary

Last week’s matchup to watch:

Jared Goff toasted the Saints’ secondary in the first contest as he went 28/40 for 391 passing yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. The interception actually came from LB Alex Anzalone who made a tremendous play changing directions on a whim and picking the ball of while diving, so that one wasn’t necessarily a bad play from Goff (nor from the Saints’ secondary). For whatever reason, in three games against the Saints, Goff has had incredible success as he’s combined for 76 completions on 115 attempts, 959 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and three interceptions.

Death, taxes, and Jared Goff playing well against the Saints. Though his stat line wasn’t anything jaw-dropping (25/40 for 297 yards, one touchdown, one interception) he made the plays needed to put up points and get the win. In every position that was a critical possession and highly pressured, Goff absolutely excelled and stepped up to the occasion. Jared proved that no moment is too big for him, and that’s exactly why the Rams are on their way to Superbowl 53.