• The Rams’ defense must get to Drew Brees and the offense must score early and often against the NFC No. 1-seeded Saints.
By Andy Benoit
January 17, 2019

On Wednesday we discussed how the Rams combatting a high-powered Saints offense begins and ends with defending All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. Expect Los Angeles to break tendency and travel Aqib Talib with Thomas, and expect a lot of the Rams’ usual zone coverage, where speedy linebackers Mark Barron and Cory Littleton can play run and chase. John Johnson is usually the safety who plays down near the linebackers, but this week you could see free safety Lamarcus Joyner, a former cornerback, drop down to provide additional speed for covering Alvin Kamara.

The tricky part is that the Saints will often put Kamara and Thomas near one another on the field, forcing some of these Rams pass defenders to win one-on-one. It’s crucial that defensive tackle Aaron Donald show why he’s worth that $87 million guaranteed—Donald must collapse Drew Brees’s pocket.

Even if the Rams can do ALL of these things (and that’s a big IF), the offense still must post at least 30 points to have a chance. Sean McVay early on will go heavy on his staple play-action game. Behind a well-schooled offensive line, and with QB Jared Goff’s anticipation throwing and WRs Robert Woods’s and Brandin Cooks’s attention to route-running detail, Los Angeles has the most proficient play-action game in football. It stems almost entirely from zone run looks, with either three receivers flooding one area of the field as Goff rolls out (the Rams killed Dallas with this last week), or, as you’ll see more in this game, Woods and Cooks running in-breaking routes and crossing patterns 15-plus yards downfield.

The run fakes are a great way to exploit Saints linebackers Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone, two fast-hitting attackers who will be extra amped early in the game with the Superdome crowd noise egging them on.

Beat Davis and Anzalone on a few play-action throws and you soften that No. 2-ranked Saints run defense, which the Rams MUST do. Running backs Todd Gurley, who has dominant build-up speed, and C.J. Anderson, who offers more lateral agility and short-area burst, headline Los Angeles’s offense right now. The Rams this season are 11–0 when they rush for at least 135 yards and 3–3 when they don’t. In this game, running is extra important as it can deflate that Superdome crowd and keep Brees & Co. on the sideline.

Chance of Los Angeles upsetting New Orleans: 49%. The Superdome crowd noise could complicate the no-huddle approach the Rams rely on for checking in and out of different plays and controlling the snap-to-snap tempo.

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