It feels like déjà vu here, as this is the second season in a row that the Rams and Saints face-off in week 12. This time around, though, things are much different with the Rams sitting atop their division and the Saints only one game ahead of them for the third seed in the NFC playoff race. If you watched “All or Nothing” with the Rams, you would have seen this was the game that head coach Sean McVay pointed to when first talking to quarterback Jared Goff stating that he has some rare stuff (he used a different term), specifically the play where Goff checked out of a zero-blitz and hit Tavon Austin on a post route against the free safety for a beautiful touchdown. This is the new look Saints; a Saints team that is running the ball more and allowing almost 10 fewer points per game than they did in 2016. With the loss in week 11, the room for error for the Rams has shrunk dramatically.
Los Angeles Rams Offense vs. New Orleans Saints Defense
Like I stated before, the Saints were allowing 28.3 points per game in 2016, but are now allowing the ninth fewest points per game at 19.6. Much of that can be credited to their pass rush and getting to the quarterback, they have the fourth most quarterback sacks this season with 44, five more than they finished all of 2016 with. Unfortunately for them, they lost Alex Okafor in week 11 for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury, Okafor had the second most sacks on the team with five. Likely to replace him is rookie Trey Hendrickson, who has two quarterback sacks on the season, but will be up against one of the best at the left tackle position in Andrew Whitworth. Not to forget about All-Pro Cameron Jordan who has as many sacks as the Rams have given up all year, with nine. Those nine sacks allowed can also help point towards some of the turnarounds in the Rams’ offense as well, given they gave up 26 in just the seven weeks that Jared Goff played in 2016. In games where the Rams give up two or more quarterback sacks they are averaging 21.8 points scored as compared to 36.0 when they allow one or less. If the Rams want success, they will need to get Todd Gurley involved in the game, something they didn’t do in week 11 against the Vikings, due to game flow and lack of possession. That was the fourth time this season Gurley finished with 15 or fewer rushing attempts, the Rams have lost two of them. The Rams have found a lot of success when they can get Gurley 20 or more attempts, something they have done four times this season. In those games the team is 4-0 and are outscoring opponents 136-86.
Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. New Orleans Saints Offense
Though the Rams were known for their defense over the last few seasons, they are actually allowing the fewest points per game since they last went to the Super Bowl in 2001, at 18.6, seventh fewest in the league and only 13.5 since week five. Keeping the Saints to 18.6 points or less is asking a lot against an offense that is averaging the second most passing yards per game (271.7) and the third most rushing yards allowed per game (144.0). In fact, they have scored less than 20 points only once this season. Their incorporation of the run has brought this offense to the next level. In the previous seasons they had relied on the arm of Drew Brees, not a bad problem to have, but this year they have the seventh most rushing attempts with 299 and are making Brees’ pass attempts even more deadly. The perfect example of this was week 11 against Washington where Brees took the game over, threw them into overtime only to win there and keep their one-game lead in the NFC. Since the Rams are dinged up in the secondary and are allowing the fifth most rushing yards per game at 123.3, they may need to rely on forcing turnovers. With the seventh highest turnover differential at +6, the Rams have stolen a lot of possessions and have one of the highest points off of turnovers totals in the league. This is easier said than done with an offense that has the sixth-fewest turnovers on the season with 11. In order to get the turnovers to try and eliminate the ball in the hands of Brees and the offense, the Rams will need to get home with their pass rush and add to their 28 quarterback sacks, 10th most in the league.
After the loss to the Vikings in week 11, the Rams may have their most important game of the season in week 12. Should they lose this game, they will be at least two games behind both the Vikings and Saints, putting dashes on anything higher than a four seed in the NFC. Seems a little greedy after the poor seasons Rams fans have come to know over the years, but there’s a feeling around the team that makes it seem fair. I fully expect the Rams to keep the Saints’ pass rush at bay and give their quarterback time in the pocket to create the big plays that we have seen many of this year. If that is the case, I expect the game to come down to keeping the ball out of Brees’ hands for a game-winning drive. That said, the Rams take this game 28-24 in a thriller at the Coliseum.