As the playoffs approach and the Saints maintain a slim one game lead in the NFC South standings, this is the kind of game you have to win on the road against the Rams late in the season if you want to be a factor. The Rams are 5-8 and have little to play for besides a spoiler role. The Saints currently hold the two seed and need to secure this victory so they can afford a road loss at Carolina next week if necessary. A loss today makes the Carolina game imperative. Here's five things I'll be keeping an eye on in this game:
1. Can the Saints stop Zac Stacy and the Rams' running game?
Stacy has been a really pleasant surprise to this Ram offense. The rookie has proven to be a versatile and quality starting NFL back. Kellen Clemens, the replacement quarterback for the injured Sam Bradford, is garbage. He may not implode but he's not going to hurt you too much either. It is key to shut down Stacy. The Rams' offense isn't that good when Stacy is playing well, but it can go dormant when he's not. This is a game where the Saints defense could really shut down the opponent, but it starts with stopping the run. They are just 27th overall on offense.
2. How does the offensive line hold up in pass protection?
We saw the o-line hold up incredibly well in pass protection against the Panthers, who have a ferocious front seven, but that was at home. The Rams are scary, especially getting after the passer. The Rams are 7th in the NFL with 38 sacks and Robert Quinn is the main threat with 13 already this year. Chris Long is very good, too, and we experienced that first hand a couple of years ago when he embarrassed Charles Brown for three sacks.
3. How do the Rams manage without Tavon Austin?
Tavon Austin has missed a ton of practice with a bad ankle and it's unlikely he'll play. If he doesn't, the Rams will be missing their primary big play receiver, return man on kickoffs/punts, and the main guy they try to get the ball in the hands of. Without him, are they even capable of getting a big play anywhere offensively, or on special teams?
4. Does the offense perform well on the road?
The narrative is that the Saints can't play on the road… but playing at St. Louis in a dome is much different than playing at Seattle or New York in freezing temperatures. Sure, this is a road game, but the conditions suit the offense. Will they be able to play as well as they did against Carolina?
5. Can the Saints avoid major mistakes?
The only way the Rams can hang is if the Saints make really stupid mistakes, like turnovers and penalties. This game has the potential to be a blowout win if the Sainst just avoid shooting themselves in the foot. They are clearly superior. If they do make mistakes, though, it closes the gap.