Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. That must be what it feels like for the New Orleans Saints defensive secondary in the last few days, after having just met the challenge of stopping the outstanding WR corps of the Minnesota Vikings. Now the Saints DB's get another stiff challenge this coming Sunday when they have to face yet another top-notch WR group, this time the one belonging to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.
After the (6-1) Saints secondary arguably had their best performance of the season thus far in the 30-20 win over Minnesota; now they get to turn right around and face the Rams WR trio of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and former New Orleans WR and Saints 2014 Draft #1 pick Brandin Cooks.
Woods (46 receptions, 672 yards), Cooks (35 receptions, 643 yards) and Kupp (30 receptions, 438 yards) have combined alone for a whopping 1,753 yards worth of receiving yardage in 8 games; and now come into the Superdome hoping to have a big day against a Saints secondary that has notably struggled at times this season, in spite of New Orleans' current 6-game winning streak.
Kupp has actually missed the last two games with a knee injury, but Rams head coach Sean McVay expects Kupp to be in the starting line-up when the two teams face off in what might be the best NFL game that you will get to see all season; other than when the Rams will host the (7-1) Kansas City Chiefs on ESPN Monday Night Football from Mexico City on Nov. 19th in 2 weeks from now.
As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer / analyst Nick Underhill: while the Saints pass rush clearly was the catalyst for last Sunday Night's success in Minneapolis, the Saints secondary made some key adjustments at halftime and incorporated some more zone coverages; which in turn helped out the Saints DB's — specifically 4th year CB PJ Williams — on a handful of plays.
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen had 3rd year safety Vonn Bell provide "bracket coverage" over the top on a variety of different snaps in the second half; and although the Vikings did manage to complete some passes, the biggest impact of having Bell help out was when he aided former Ohio State teammate and recently-acquired Saints CB Eli Apple.
Most notably: the huge play in the 3rd quarter that resulted with Williams intercepting a Kirk Cousins pass intended for Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, which Williams "took to the house" for a Pick-6 TD.
(Cousins wanted to throw the ball to Thielen originally, but both Apple and Bell were right there with him in coverage; which then prompted Cousins to throw to Diggs — but Diggs had stopped running).
Underhill makes the observation that last Sunday's performance was a good one for Apple; whom he says played smart and didn’t give up much in coverage. Apple also had a game-high 9 tackles in his Black and Gold debut.
Bell could be in line to help out again this Sunday, as the Saints secondary now gets to face a Rams receiver group that indisputably might just be the League's very best, and a big reason why the Rams are (8-0).
Saints #1 CB Marshon Lattimore likely will be matched up in man coverage against Woods, while Apple is likely to draw the responsibility of covering Cooks; and Williams (who was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Minnesota) manning the slot against Kupp.
If for some reason that Kupp doesn't play, then you can expect that Rams #4 WR Josh Reynolds will fill in for him; since the former Texas A&M star has recently stepped into a larger role recently.
Reynolds is coming off an ankle injury suffered in the preseason and has been filling in at times for both Cooks and Kupp. He scored 2 TD's for Los Angeles in their 29-27 win last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
It goes without saying that the Saints secondary will once again have to rise to the occasion, if they expect to at least "limit the damage" done by a Rams passing attack that is averaging 303.1 yards per game and is 2nd overall in the League in total offense (442.6 yards per game).
The Saints secondary has actually moved up slightly in the League's overall pass defense rankings; improving a total of 4 spots to #28 overall now as opposed to their status after Week #1 and the embarrassing performance in the 48-40 season-opening loss at home to Tampa Bay, when they were ranked dead last.
The Saints pass defense has now yielded a total of exactly 2100 passing yards to opponents in their 7 games, an 8.7 yards per play average; which is the 2nd worst in the NFL behind both Tampa Bay (8.8 yards per pass) and Oakland (also 8,8).
Conversely: the Rams passing attack averages 9.6 yards per reception, which obviously is #1 overall in the rankings, just slightly ahead of Tampa Bay (9.4)