Gameday! It was fun to climb back to 4-4 but now the football season is back to being depressing and sad again. A win against the Rams at least gives us faint hope the Saints could run the table, whereas a loss kills the season off for good. It’s a must win, no two ways about it. The Rams will come to the Superdome also sporting a 4-6 record, so the implications of a loss are pretty similar. Here’s what I’m looking for:
The Saints are the #1 offense in the NFL. You read that correctly. The Rams defense is #6 in the NFL and they’re also 6th in scoring defense. How are they 4-6 when they give up less points than almost anyone else in the league, you ask? Oh, that’s because they score less than anyone else. DEAD LAST. But anyway, this paragraph isn’t about that. Gregg Williams is the defensive coordinator and he’s doing a fantastic job. This pits Sean Payton against Gregg Williams… there’s tons of bad blood and history. I can’t wait to see how an elite offense fares against an elite defense – especially when it’s personal and both coaches kind of hate each other. Will they even shake hands postgame? Williams and Payton wouldn’t talk to each other pretty much the entire last season that Williams was in New Orleans, so I highly doubt they’re on speaking terms now. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the upper hand. I believe the Saints outmatch the Rams and the only way the Rams can level the playing field here is turnovers. The Saints having been turning it over a lot, though, and we know how aggressive Williams is in trying to create turnovers. It’s going to be something to watch, for sure. Let’s hope Payton gets the best of his Super Bowl defensive coordinator.
2. Shutting down Todd Gurley
The Rams’ offense is pathetic. So, so bad. They score 14.9 points per game, dead last in the NFL, and they are 31st in total yards. They finally handed over the reins to 1st overall pick Jared Goff last week, though the weather in that game did him no favors. I don’t feel like it’s fair to evaluate him on that performance given the fact that he was playing in a driving rain storm. There will be a much better opportunity in a Dome against a poor defense like the Saints to showcase his talents. The Saints are 27th overall in defense, by the way, which is kind of awesome compared to the last two years. And they’re playing better as the weeks go by. The Rams offense is so bad they can’t even make Todd Gurley look good. Gurley was one of the best backs in football last year and this year he’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry. The Saints, meanwhile, give up 3.9 yards per carry which is 10th best in the NFL. On paper, the Saints run defense should be able to stop Gurley. I have this worry in the pit of my stomach that Gurley could still go off, though. He’s one of those backs that you can’t judge recent stats by. He’s an excellent and dynamic player, so the Saints will have to stay vigilant. Stopping him will be crucial because the Rams have struggled all season to hurt teams in the passing game. If you can shut them down on 1st and 2nd down, and force them into 3rd and more than 4 – they’re in big trouble because they haven’t been able to make plays in the passing game AT ALL. So shut down Gurley and the Rams pretty much can’t score. The Saints have been shockingly good against the run this season but this game is more critical than most to do that.
3. Rattling Goff
So in conjunction with stopping the run, that puts the pressure on Goff to perform and make plays. I want to see if this pass rush can keep the recent streak it’s on. 5 sacks against the Broncos and 2 against the Panthers (really 3, though one was somehow called a Cam Newton “run”) was impressive. And in that Panthers game the pass rush was fierce all game, they were unfortunate not to get more sacks. Anytime you play a rookie he’s going to hold onto the ball longer. The more hits they can get on Goff, the better. He was hit A LOT against the Dolphins so I’m sure he’s already a little banged up from that game. He was only sacked once and had decent escapability, but he took hits. I’m hoping the defensive line can rattle him enough that he makes mistakes. He didn’t throw any interceptions last week but a couple this week would be nice.
4. Game 1 with the help of Kevin O’Dea
As oppose to firing someone or cutting players, the Saints elected to hire an extra coach to help with the calamity that is their special teams unit. Enter Kevin O’Dea, the new special teams assistant coach. I have no doubt he’ll replace Greg McMahon eventually, much like Dennis Allen eventually replaced Rob Ryan. Goal #1 in his first game should be to prevent special teams from having a catastrophic play. I just want to go ONE GAME right now without special teams screwing up so badly that it completely swings momentum against the Saints. I’m not asking for a turnovers, a huge return, or even a 50+ yard field goal. I’m just asking for no epic disasters. The Rams are good enough defensively that they will beat the Saints if special teams creates a huge advantage for them. The Saints can’t allow this to keep happening. Just be smart and take your touchbacks, make fair catches when you must, and try to limit return yards on kickoffs. The Rams have gotten good performances out of their return units so it will be a challenge. It would be cool if the Saints could go a game without getting a kick blocked, too.
5. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald might actually be the best player in the NFL. He’s certainly in the top 10. The Saints have done a fantastic A+ type job limiting elite pass rushers this year. Consider this: Khalil Mack, Cliff Avril, Vic Beasley, Jr. and Von Miller are four guys in the top 7 in the NFL for individual sacks. All four players have faced the Saints and they’ve combined for just 1 sack against them. Mack, Beasley and Miller were all shut out against the Saints and they’ve combined for 27 sacks this season. Incredible job by Andrus Peat, Zach Strief, the extra blockers, and the scheme designed by Sean Payton. The problem is, those are all edge guys and Donald is an interior player. He’ll present a brand new challenge. Yes, the Saints have faced Kawaan Short and have done a good job against him too, but Donald is on his own level. This will be a bigger test than Max Unger, Jahri Evans and Senio Kelemete have faced this year. Can they contain him and buy Brees enough time to make plays?