The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints have met four times over the last three regular seasons, so the teams are quite familiar with each other. This budding rivalry is about as fierce as it gets. Given that familiarity, what might be different and what might be the same about the 2019 edition of the Saints?
The first and most important component to the Saints continuing their reign in the NFC South is 40-year old quarterback Drew Brees. The future Hall Of Famer has masterfully implemented Saints Head Coach Sean Payton’s offense for years now but showed some slippage toward the end of last season particularly when trying to get the ball downfield. Everyone who watched the end of Peyton Manning’s career knows that the wall can appear quickly at the end. However, Brees looked good in the Saints opener, so maybe he can stay a step ahead of father time for one more season.
After RB Mark Ingram signed with the Baltimore Ravens there was some speculation that his backfield counterpart Alvin Kamara would see an increased workload. However in the Saints’ opener, Kamara only had 13 carries, which was right on par with his usage in 2018. Kamara is now joined by former Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray who had six carries for 43 yards against the Houston Texans. All in all, their split workload could look a lot like what the Rams are doing with Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown this season.
Having just grappled with Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, the Rams will again be facing one of the league’s top dual threat running backs in Kamara. It will be interesting to see if their tune-up in Carolina helped to prepare them for what Kamara will bring this week. In the NFC Championship, the Rams were able to slow Kamara by chipping him out of the backfield. With DL Ndamukong Suh now in Tampa Bay, it would have to be with a slightly different personnel group up front.
Nothing will be easy up front this week. The Saints still have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The Saints used their 2019 NFL Draft second-round selection on Texas A&M center Erik McCoy who will replaces retired center Max Unger. Otherwise, it’s mostly familiar faces holding down the fort. The Saints have one of the best pair of tackles around in RT Ryan Ramczyk and LT Terron Armstead. No surprise then that the Saints’ offensive line was name PFF’s Week 1 Line of the Week:
A year ago, the Rams struggled to contain Raiders tight end and former Ram Jared Cook in Week 1. Unfortunately, Cook is now a Saint, and it is unclear whether or not the Rams have figured out how to guard tight ends. For what it’s worth, they held Panthers tight end Greg Olson to just four receptions for 36 yards last week, and Cook only had two catches on Monday night for the Saints. Still, the Cook matchup could be a big problem.
Michael Thomas remains one of the most productive wide receivers in the league and had a big night against the Texans grabbing 10 catches for 123 yards. The Rams hope to slow him just as they did in the NFC Championship game when they held him to a mere four catches.
The Saints’ secondary is probably a bit more vulnerable than their front seven. So much like in the Carolina game, we may see the Rams look to set up the run with the pass. That being said, cornerback Marshon Lattimore held his own against DeAndre Hopkins on Monday Night Football, and safety Marcus Williams also turned in a solid performance. Nothing is going to be given for free here.
Demario Davis plays the WILL position for the Saints and was a really nice pickup for them last season. Lookout for an occasional blitz from Davis or MLB Alex Anzalone. The Saints’ D-line is stout, and features Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan. Opposite Jordan is last year’s first-rounder Marcus Davenport who should have a more prominent role this season. 2016 first-round pick DT Sheldon Rankins is currently dealing with an Achilles issue; he would be sorely missed should he not play Sunday. His backup, Mario Edwards, Jr., is also dinged up, so the Saints fans will be keeping a close eye on the injury report this week.
The Rams’ new offensive line will look to continue to gel and help quarterback Jared Goff find a rhythm that eluded him in in Carolina. The best way to keep the Saints’ offense from getting going will be to make them watch as the Rams’ offense chews up clock and controls action under the hot Coliseum sun. Look for lots of Cooper Kupp as well as the tight ends early before McVay turns to Gurley and Brown to gash the Saints’ defense.
Fingers crossed, this game should be fascinating!