The Los Angeles Rams will be attempting to build on their 4-1 stretch since their bye against the New Orleans Saints who are 4-point underdogs at DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is seeking vengeance on the Saints who beat them 27-20 at the Superdome in 2022.
Both New Orleans and Los Angeles are firmly in the NFC playoff picture at 7-7 with three games remaining. I had the chance to interview Luke Hubbard of SB Nation’s Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles to gain familiarity with the enemy ahead of their Week 16 primetime clash.
Q - Quarterback Derek Carr has been noticeably up and down throughout his first season in New Orleans. Yet, Carr put together one of his best performances of the year in the win over the Giants, setting season highs in touchdown passes (3), completion percentage (82.1) and passer rating (134.8). What is your assessment of the Derek Carr experience in the Bayou in ‘23?
A - He’s been underwhelming, but he gives us random glimpses of the level of play he’s capable of playing at. Like you said, Sunday was his best game in a Saints uniform, but in reality, 218 yards and three touchdowns shouldn’t be considered his “best game.” He’s capable of giving you a few games a year with 300+ yards and 3-4 touchdowns, but it just hasn’t happened yet. He’s dealt with a lot of injuries, so I’ll give him that, but still there is just a disconnect between him and the rest of the offense at times. We know he and Chris Olave had their little drama spell, Michael Thomas was tweeting cryptid tweets about Carr and the offense and he just got into a fight with Eric McCoy in last week’s game. He’s been serviceable at times, but when you’re paying someone 150 million dollars, you expect more than serviceable.
Q - The Saints held Giants running back Saquon Barkley to just 14 rushing yards on nine carries in Week 15. With LA star Kyren Williams next on the docket, how was New Orleans able to defend Barkley so well and how could Williams find success against such a tough defense?
A - This is a defense that’s hard to figure out. They’ve looked amazing at times, but at other times, they’ve looked pitiful. I will say their defense looked fired up against the Giants, which is something we haven’t seen in a while from that unit. They have the ability to play games like that where they can dominate an opponent at the line of scrimmage, but we are just two weeks removed from the Falcons rushing for 168 yards while averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
The main thing they did against the Giants was get penetration. In both run defense and pass rushing, they were able to control the line of scrimmage, which was surprising given they’d only totaled 23 sacks in the first 13 games. If the Rams want to get Kyren Williams going, they just need to dominate the line of scrimmage. I know that sounds obvious, but if the backs can get past the defensive line, the secondary has struggled to tackle downhill runners, so if Williams can get 3-5 yards downfield without being contacted, he should have a nice day.
Q - Who is one player on offense that Rams fans might not be familiar with that they should be keeping an eye on? What about on defense?
A - Brian Bresee. The rookie defensive tackle out of Clemson has been a beast for the Saints so far. From the interior of the defensive line, he’s totaled 30+ pressures, 19 hurries and two sacks. He’s been doing all of that while being double teamed most of the time. I can’t find the updated statistic, but just six games into his career, he was getting double teamed on 68% of the Saints pass rush downs and still providing consistent pressure from the inside. He and Carl Granderson, who leads the Saints with 7.5 sacks this year, can wreak havoc on an opposing offensive line if they get going.
Q - Heading into the season, the NFC South was seemingly the Saints for the taking given how wide open the division appeared on paper. New Orleans is tied with the Buccaneers for first place at 7-7 with three games remaining but it’s hard not to feel like the Saints have underachieved this year. What are some factors that have led to this underwhelming campaign?
A - The offense starting the season very slow didn’t help. The Saints won the first two games of the season scoring just 16 and 20 points before losing back-to-back games where they scored 17 and nine. They then blew out the Patriots 34-0, but followed that up with a 13 point stinker against the Texans. After the defense allowed just one opponent to break 20 points, the Saints found themselves 3-3.
Then, the offense actually figured some things out, winning two of their next three while scoring 24, 38 and 24, but we saw the defense slipping up a bit. Just when it felt like they were figuring out how to play complimentary football, both the offense and defense started to falter. The offense scored 19 and 15 in their next two while allowing 27 and 24 points. Since then, the Saints lost a close one to the Lions and have looked great in their last two games, outscoring their opponents 52-12 (it was the Panthers and Giants though).
This is just a hard team to put a finger on, but I would say overall, it’s been the offensive struggles. The defense hasn’t been elite all year, but if the offense could score 24 points every game, the Saints would at least be a nine win team right now.
Q - The Saints are 4-point underdogs with an O/U of 44.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook heading into Thursday Night Football. How do you see this game going for New Orleans and what is your prediction for Thursday night?
A - Well the Rams offense has been on fire recently, and my worry is can the Saints keep up? They’ve won one game where their opponent scored 20+ points, and I don’t think they can hold the Rams to under 20 with the way they’ve been playing. Another thing that worries me is the Saints are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. After two good weeks, traveling across the country, and playing just four days from Sunday, I feel like this team is destined for a let down. With that said, I do think this game will be closeish, but I’m not too confident in the Saints chances until they show me they can be consistent.